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10 Ways to Maximize Your Guitar Playing

Many times it is necessary to acquire an over-all knowledge and understanding of how to go about practicing guitar, as opposed to just learning techniques, riffs, scales and modes. All of these things are highly important of course but when applied correctly, can make the ultimate difference in progress. Progress is the ticket for many guitarists because everyone, no matter what their passion is, strives for personal growth.

Even if a guitarist starts out sloppy and looks at their own playing half-hearted, eventually they will start taking it more seriously, because they tend to get a taste of what’s possible in their own playing. Eventually a guitarist will become somewhat of a perfectionist, and for many the word perfection is sublime, but once you attach that “ist” to it, it some how taints the beautiful word perfection, by suggesting that there is a lot of work involved.

Well, I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t any work involved, but feel comfortable in saying that, because if you do play guitar, then you already know that there is no really easy method to establishing an exclusive prestigiousness in your playing.

However, there are two ways of looking at this. I don’t believe in right and wrong, I only believe in good and better. In my opinion there is no wrong way to do anything, only a better way and I strongly believe that those who have chosen to remove words such as “can’t” and “wrong” from their vocabulary, travel further. Also, a hard lesson for most of us, and I certainly am no different, is this false form of competition. The competition that I am speaking of, comes in the form of competing with time itself. Usually this is cleverly masked as competing with someone who is better than yourself. This is an unhealthy form of competition. You shouldn’t compete with those who are more advanced than yourself in anything that you do in life. Instead, you should correct your thinking and use them as a milestone to reach. This is a mandatory outlook, and I am sorry if you do not agree, but after studying many things in my life, it still stands tried and true.

There is one person that you should compete with, and only that person. That person is you. By doing this, you inspire and push yourself to accomplish what you know that you are capable of doing. Yes, this is a pep talk, but I often remind myself in my life of these very same things, though over time it gets easier and easier to the point where you almost don’t have to remind yourself of these desirable attributes in thinking.

I’ll leave you with this very true thought. Success in anything is 90% proclaimed by the correct and positive mindset. Re-read that and eliminate the word “correct”.

1. Practice everyday for an hour.
For many of you, finding the time to tackle personal interests is daunting, considering that many of you work very hard in the job world, and many of you have a family to attend to, not to mention the things that would seem necessary to conquer in order to exist. Its all about being able to manage your time. An hour isn’t much and can be fulfilled effectively. The best time that I have found to practice is with the TV on and the sound on mute. If you have a favorite program that you cannot get away from, keep your guitar handy and practice during the commercials. That is not the most effective way to practice but it still does the trick. Practicing throughout the day or evening is the best way. Practice for 20 minutes, take care of something that requires your attention, go back and practice for 10 minutes, take care of something else, then practice for 25 minutes.

That is not a formula. Don’t take me literally when I say practice for 20, then 10 and then 25. The key is to break it up and you really shouldn’t keep track, unless you are having trouble disciplining yourself.

2. If possible work with a metronome.
You can buy one for peanuts, but there are a lot of free ones out there. My personal favorite is a program called Guitar Speed Trainer. I like it the best because its an actual training method that doesn’t require a lot of time, and you can program your own passages into it. The best part about it is that it has the typical tick-tock sound of a metronome, but it is one step better for the simple reason that you can match up the notes you play with the notes that are being played in the program.

The key to using a metronome is to find your limit and then set the metronome to an extremely conservative number. If you can play something very easily at 80bpm (beats per minute) then set it to 60bpm, no matter how incredibly boring it is. Practice a riff at this speed, several times over, until it is flawless, then set the metronome for anywhere between 61 and 65bpm. Take breaks in between, repeating this process until you have reached a speed where your hands lose control, then stop. Call it a day. The next time you go to practice, practice starting at 60, and then practice starting at a slightly higher setting like 65bpm. Use that formula for taking breaks and slowly building your speed. It will take a little bit of time to reach your goal, but being consistent is what will get you there, a lot quicker than you might think. You’ll be glad you did it.

3. Don’t always practice the same thing.
Make the attempt to step back and look at the exercises that you are playing, and make the effort to figure out how you can make them a little more difficult, interesting and melodic in order to challenge yourself. Then practice them with the metronome using that same principle. Figure out different timings and look at ways to make your picking hand pick out 2 notes on this string, 3 notes on that string and 4 notes on another string, within the same pattern or exercise.

4. Practice with one chord.
Pick any chord and see how you can condition yourself to come up with different strumming approaches and rhythms. Really think about it. “I’ll try playing this chord with 3 strums in even timing. Now I’m going to take that chord, play 2 strums and hesitate before the 3rd and final strum”, or “I’ll play this chord five times, with 4 down strokes, but the 5th one will be an upstroke”.

5. Practice with multiple chords.
Go out there on the world wide web and find a chord chart. Pick five randomly and play each one over and over again, repeating its name as you are playing it. Then, ignoring chord progression formulas, rearrange the order of those 5 chords. This will help you memorize and will train your ear for ultimate modulation. After you have mastered those 5 chords, add another 5 chords. Now you have 10 guitar chords to work with when you experiment with chord progression. Continue this process.

6. Get a simple tape deck for recording purposes.
I would say use some recording software that you might have, but a tape is a little bit faster, for when you want to record quickly and have immediate playback. Record yourself playing a chord that interests you. Record yourself strumming it over and over again, with any rhythm that you like, but make sure to record it for a good length. Play it back and then solo over it, which brings us to….

7. Soloing.
People think to hard about guitar and they think way to hard about soloing on the guitar. They have no idea because they choose to be stubborn and not correct their thinking. It is not hard. Forget scales – forget modes. Do you honestly think that when I am improvising, I am thinking about what mode I am playing out of? If someone asks me later what mode I was playing out of, I can most certainly backtrack and define, but let’s look at the word theory. Theory, as in theoretical, as in theoretically this is a way to explain something so that two people can be on the same page, but it is a tool like the guitar itself, and it is far from being set in stone. Unfortunately, people base their musical lives around this. The world of musical theory is beautiful and fascinating, but until a guitarist is willing to experiment, it will not make a lot of sense, no matter how knowledgeable that guitarist may be. Which brings us to….

8. Improvising.
Yngwie Malmsteen declared that “The genesis of all musical creation comes from improvisational playing”. I know that I have quoted him before, but I can’t even put it as well as he did. Don’t be afraid of it. Too many people ask about how you get started improvising and then developing your own solos. The answer? develop your own style. Listen to a lot of different types of music and not just guitar related music, and yes, Malmsteen even said the same thing. Build a massive collection of varying musical genres and then jam with those Cd’s or mp3s as often as possible. You may not be very good at first, but that’s a part of any challenge. Start with a note and if it matches what you are listening to, then find another note that matches to go along with that note. Try to keep in rhythm with the music that you are listening to while you are playing those 2 notes, and then take a chance and grab another note. That 3rd note may not work so well, but you always have options like bending or sliding that note up to one that does work. In doing this, you are training your reflexes. I still hit a lot of funky notes when I improvise, but have taught myself to correct them, almost before its noticed. You can do this too. Some people don’t even know when I’ve made a mistake and some people do. I don’t care because I’m having fun. That’s the whole point of music and people are quick to forget this. Which brings us to the fact that the best musicians, artists, scientists, human beings…

9. Do not judge.
I have learned so much from musicians who were not nearly at my level of skill, just as much as I have learned from those who were way beyond it. The thing to ask yourself, is whether or not you are doing this for yourself or for other people. If your answer is that you are playing what you want to play, the way that you want to play it for yourself, then you have already won. The reason is because even those who have massive dreams to become musical icons, start with what they want to hear in music. One of my other great passions is film-making and the greatest filmmakers; Fellini, Scorsese and Kubrick were highly self indulgent. Most people are too afraid to be this way. They feel that it is selfish and they are sadly mistaken. When you have an idea or a style in anything that you do, you will attract to you, those who appreciate it, and considering that the world currently suffices some 6 billion people, I think that if you desire to, you can certainly find those like-minded individuals.

My point for saying all of that was because it is important to realize that the most unlikely sources can be great teachers. Mankind desires recognition. Give your fellow man recognition. This is key and the reason is, because those who cannot recognize others around them are not capable of recognizing their own self worth, and therefor, their own potential. You could say that this is really heavy stuff, and you are right in saying so, but the truth of the matter is that everyone has at least a personal dream of what they want to see come out of themselves, and even the everyday Joe, who just wants to learn a few chords, has a secret longing to see where they can take an instrument such as the guitar. It does not matter how far you want to take it, but everyone presents themselves with a challenge that is worthy of their own capabilities. Sadly, few go through with this, when it is just around the corner. This now brings us to the conclusion, which is…

10. Limit yourself.
This is a trick that Steve Vai uses that I read about when I was a kid, and it almost works too well. What you do is pick two notes, generally next to each other but they can really be anything. Take those two notes and play only those notes for as long as you can. You can do absolutely anything that you want with them. Bends, sliding up, sliding down, hammer-ons, pull-offs, tremolo picking, etc. Make a good attempt every now and then to play those 2 notes for at least a half hour. I’m not going to paint a pretty picture. At first it is interesting and you come up with lots of ideas for those 2 notes, but after about 5 minutes, you start to lose your mind. However, if you stick with it, you will very soon realize that there is a whole plethora of concepts and ideas out there.

The important thing about this exercise is that when you finally give yourself a break, your hands go crazy. Its like they’ve been cooped up in a prison cell for 6 years and are now being set free. The ideas will flow to you so quickly that your mind can barely keep up. I will also say, that this method of training works best if you are pretty relaxed when it comes to improvising on the guitar.

Final thoughts. You will notice a common factor that seems to act as an under-layer throughout these 10 methods of guitar training. That layer is the metaphysical, aka mental power. This was cold turkey, I admit that as well, but I did not write in such a heavy manner to scare you, I wrote this the way that I did, not even to inspire you. You can only inspire yourself. I wrote this to hopefully settle that negative thought process and attitude that most guitarists have. Why are guitar players so arrogant? well, you don’t have to be. No matter how good you become, there will always be someone better and that’s a very good thing. It will push you to get better, at the same time keeping you humble.

The over-all message is to just have fun with it. This is not work, this is play. Those 10 approaches to playing really do work, but if you apply them, you have to think of it as fun and get excited about the progress that you are making. With that, I will simply say, here’s to you and the wonderful journey ahead.

Post by: Tennyson Williams
Tennyson Williams has been studying guitar for eight years, sixteen hours a day, and has studied every style of music imaginable. He has played in bands, that encompassed a wide range of music. It wasn’t until after eight years of piano lessons, that he made the decision to become a self-taught musician, but the journey has been well worth it for the guitarist. His sole passion is to share with others, his endless knowledge of music, in order to make their musical dreams a reality. He currently maintains a site called GuitArticles, where a wide variety of lessons and articles on the intellectual properties of music can be found.

Blues Guitar Scales: How Blues Scales Work in Lead Guitar

The blues guitar scales are really based off of the pentatonic scales with one extra note added. We call that extra note the “blue note” because it gives the pentatonic scale its obvious “bluesyness.” The only real difference between the scales on the guitar and the same scales on any other instrument is the fact that there is more than one way to play them on a guitar. This is due mostly to the fact that the guitar is a stringed instrument and there are at least 3-5 ways to play any unique note.

The minor pentatonic scale is created using the root (or 1), flatted 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flatted 7th of a major scale. Notice that there is no 2nd or 6th scale tone used. There’s an interesting reason for that but it requires a substantial amount of music theory to explain it and this isn’t really the place for that.

To create the minor blues scale we take the minor pentatonic scale and add a flatted 5th (or sharp 4) to it. In the key of A, this creates a scale with the notes A, C, D, Eb, E, and G in it. Some people don’t differentiate between the minor and the major blues scales. If someone calls a scale a blues scale, assume they mean the minor version.

A major pentatonic scale is created with the 1st (root,) 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th tone of a major scale. In C that would be C, D, E, G, and A. To make it a major blues scale you add a flatted 3rd which gives you C, D, Eb, E, G, and A in the key of C.

Notice that the rule governing relative major and minor keys/scales is also in effect here. If you look at the keys of A minor and C major, which are relative, meaning they contain the same notes, you’ll see the same group of notes.

The A minor blues scale is A, C, D, Eb, E, and G. The C major blues scale is C, D, Eb, E, G, and A. Same notes, different starting point. This sort of thing happens all the time in music. This is of particular interest if you’re playing blues lead guitar because you can see that your blues guitar scales really do double duty. Once you learn one pattern, it’s really useful for 2 keys, one major and one minor.

So how to we apply this scale to a standard 12 bar blues chord progression? What’s cool is that the simplest approach is really simple. Whatever the first chord of the chord progression is, let’s say it’s A7, use that minor blues scale to solo over the song. There’s no need to change scales at any time.

Keep in mind that this is only one possible approach, and in many cases it’s not the best approach. There are several ways to play over a 12 bar progression, or any other kind of chord progression. Many of these approaches use some combination of major and minor blues scales.

It is easy to find the 5 “boxes” or patterns of the blues scale on the internet. A simple search should turn up hundreds of choices. Once you learn the blues scales and have them under your fingers. You’ll want to start jamming with them and learning how to make the sounds you want to hear.

For more blues guitar lessons and help with your blues guitar scales, check out Playing Through The Blues, my blues lead guitar course.

Post by: Griff Hamlin

Guitar Modes: The Modal Scales of Popular Music

Guitar Modes and Modal Scales
Modal scales, or modes, are the different ways the major scale can function and sound. Any one of the major scale’s seven notes can function as the root. Each root, or mode, has a unique tonality and sound. All music is either based on or thought of in relation to the major scale and its modes. Using and understanding modes is critical to developing a knowledge of guitar music theory and understanding popular songs. Modal scales have caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration, perhaps more than any other musical concept. Unfortunately, most modal instruction is either incorrect or misleading.

Patterns and Modes
Modes don’t require learning additional patterns. Modes stem from the same patterns as the major scale. Understanding how to play and apply major scale patterns is the key to grasping the modal concept.

Patterns of the Major Scale
The notes of the major scale cover the entire guitar neck. Instead of tackling the whole thing all at once, the fretboard is always learned in steps by focusing on one position, or pattern, at a time. This is usually accomplished through 5 patterns. Once the individual pieces are memorized they can be connected to complete the whole scale template. Each pattern may make a unique shape, but they all are simply broken pieces of the whole form. So, the individual patterns don’t become new scales on their own. They are all simply different arrangements of the same scale tones.

Playing Over Chords With Modes
The major scale can be played along with any one of its notes or chords. For example, the G major scale includes the chords G major, A minor, B minor, C major, D major, E minor, F# minor b5. The whole scale can be played over any one of these chords. When the G major scale is played over a G major chord a typical, happy, major sound results. To hear this correctly, guitar players need to have a friend strum the G chord or perhaps record or loop a rhythm track to play over. Any part of the G major scale, in any position or pattern, can be played. It doesn’t even matter what note is used to start. Guitarists can jump into the scale anywhere they like and use the notes in any order. The root G may be emphasized in order to tie the scale to the chord better, but the modal concept still works without doing so.

When the G major scale is played over the second chord, A minor, the sound of the scale changes. Again, guitar players need to have a friend strum the chord or perhaps record or loop a rhythm track to play over. Now the same scale tones sound minor, dark and jazzy. Any part of the G major scale, in any position or pattern, can be played. It doesn’t even matter what note is used to start. Guitarists can jump into the scale anywhere they like and use the notes in any order. The root A may be emphasized in order to tie the scale to the chord better, but the modal concept still works without doing so.

Seven Scale Modes
In the above example, the sound changed when playing over G and A minor because mixing notes and chords no different from mixing colors. Yellow and blue make green. Red and blue make purple. And so it is that the G major scale played over a G chord makes “Ionian Mode” (or the Ionian scale) while the G major scale played over an A minor chord makes “Dorian Mode” (or the Dorian scale). Each major scale degree, or chord, has a unique tonality and sound. Patterns, positions and starting points don’t effect the modal sound. Rather, the note or chord the scale is being played over establishes the mode.

Hearing and Playing Music Modes
Mixing colors has to be seen in order to be understood. Likewise, music modes have to be played and heard. In fact, many music theory concepts have to be applied and experienced this way. Theoretical explanations alone can’t demonstrate how modes work. Guitar players need to apply the concept to the fretboard.

Seven Greek Mode Names
Each major scale note, or chord, has its own unique sound characteristics and corresponding Greek mode name. The seven Greek names have origins in the church and include Ionian Mode, Dorian Mode, Phrygian Mode, Lydian Mode, Mixolydian Mode, Aeolian Mode and Locrian Mode. All musicians use the same Greek mode names because this music theory concept is relative to all instruments.

How to Learn Scale Modes
With music theory, each concept builds on the next. Guitarists should never get ahead of themselves by studying topics that they’re not ready for. The modal concept is related directly to major scale patterns and guitar chord progressions. To learn modes, guitar players must first master the major scale and its patterns. Next, guitarists should learn how the major scale is used to build chords. Finally, all good players should learn about chord progressions and playing by numbers. Then, guitar modes will be easy to understand and apply.

Play Until Your Fingers Bleed!

Post by: Mr. Desi Serna
Author of Fretboard Theory
Scales, Chords, Progressions, Modes

Accelerate Your Guitar Playing

First, define your objectives and determine your approach. These objectives may change as you progress, but a goal is important before starting to play the guitar.

Begin by forming good study habits. Part of your study will be physical performance and part will be mentally engaged in the study of theory, listening to recordings, tapes and the radio, watching television, Internet and watching live performances. You will be talking to other guitarists, students and professionals, studying in classes and with private teachers and of course via online guitar courses, guitar training software etc. You will also be improvising. All of these activities will give you valuable information and experience, increase your skill, broaden your scope and develop your insights. Keep an open mind and learn something from everyone you meet …even if it is not what to do!

The following suggestions should help you in your study and practice:

  • Never practice or study when you are tired or worried. Relax a bit before you begin. If possible study in a quiet place where you can be undisturbed. Have a music stand adjusted to your eye level when you practice, and make sure that you always have good light. Form the habit of studying in a regular place and at a regular time.
  • Several short study practice periods on successive days are usually better than one lengthy period of study. A little study every day is better than spasmodic, inconsistent study. Use various ways of making yourself think about what you are studying. If you are looking at a printed page of notes, try to imagine them on a guitar finger board and vice versa.
  • Form the habit of mentally reviewing every page of music you study before going on to the next one. See how much of it you can recall and try to remember it. When you have learned something make use of it as soon as you can. The sooner and more often, the better. If you have learned fingerings for a few new chords so that you can play them even slowly, make up an exercise or song that involves these chords and has you shifting from one chord to another often. It is not enough to learn about something. Unless you utilize this information it does not become a part of you.
  • When you have completed a reasonable amount of material, take time to summarize what you have covered. You may want to write your summary. Keep a good music dictionary handy, and use it frequently. When you have discovered the meaning of a new word or term, use it yourself.

Self Study

To correct poor study conditions, consider thoughtfully each of the questions below and write specific answers to each one. Then decide what you can do to correct each of the things wrong with your study conditions. Make notes of these and correct them:

  1. What can you see on your desk, music stand, or through your window that distracts you?
  2. What music, talking or other noises are disturbing your practice and study?
  3. What is wrong with your position or posture when you practice or study?
  4. Are you sure your lighting is adequate? What is wrong with it?
  5. Is your work space large enough and arranged well?
  6. What materials do you lack for effect study?
  7. What time of day is most difficult to practice or study? Why?
  8. What worries or special interests divert you from studying?

Effective methods of practicing or studying, of themselves, will not suffice. Careful planning also is essential. Lay out your work systematically before you begin. Each individual’s time, facilities and desires are personal matters. Just be sure to adopt some plan and stick to it as conscientiously as possible.

Post by: Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is a guitar teacher, author, performing musician and session guitarist with over 30 years of professional experience. Find out more about how to learn guitar fast with his popular free ecourse, available at: => GuitarCoaching.com

Getting Your Own Sound with Guitars & Amps

Hello my friends in guitar land. The most frequent question I receive from my fellow guitar players is how do I get my own sound. First, I would like to say that in my opinion a signature sound comes from your hands not from your gear. And also from a picture you have in your mind of what you want your “voice” to convey. But the idea that certain equipment will help reproduce the sound you have worked so long and hard to achieve is relevant. So I will give you an idea of what I think is a good set-up for certain types of music and specific roles being played in a musical setting. Please remember that I humbly submit these opinions in good fun and are based on over 30+ years of playing live and in the studio, as well a collecting guitars and amps during those years. I know there are plenty of guitar players out there who know a helluva lot more then I do about guitaring.

First some quickie suggestions right off the bat for you guys and gals.

Phase 1

  1. When using a wah wah and a distortion always have the wah wah before the fuzz box (how’s that for old school?) in your chain. You want to effect your guitar signal before you distort it. When using a clean boost that should be last in your chain right after your distortion units.
  2. Use as few pedals as you can. The more effects you use the more your sound suffers. If you are using more than 5 or 6 pedals try using an A/B switch and set up two loops to keep the chain as short as possible.
  3. If you like a tight sound, ceramic speakers are a good way to go. In general AlNiCo speakers tend to be a bit more saggy. But there are some Alnico speakers that are clean too, these tend to be the higher quality ones. And as they break in the ceramics tend to be tighter and cleaner.
  4. Lower output pickups tend to be thinner eq wise, and subsequently a hotter pickup tends to be darker sounding. If you want to use a lower output pickup for the reason that they reproduce your playing dynamics better, you must use a higher output amp. Again, if your guitar is a high output axe you can use a smaller amp, and still achieve a nice fat sound.
  5. Shorter scale guitars make light gauge strings feel extra light, and consequently longer scale guitars make light gauge strings feel a bit heavier. This is why back in the day when light gauge strings were not readily available, guitar players preferred Gibson guitars over Fender.
1962 Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar (Vintage)

1962 Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar (Vintage)

Phase 2
Next on the cavalcade of hits, I will give you some examples of typical setups for certain types of music. Remember you can mix and match these suggestions for your signature sound.

Clean Country Sound:
This is a sound made popular by country pickers since the 1960’s. It’s a clean sound, very little if no distortion at all.

  • Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, the bridge pickup for a bright twang with a bit less output and fatness then the Tele bridge p/u. You can also get a great albeit a more modern country sound using the between the pickups sounds (2nd and 4th) on the Strat. For all you Eastwood fans check out the Wandre and the Joey Leone Signature Models for a great bunch of aforementioned country sounds.
  • Gretsch models w/ DeArmond Dynasonic pickups give you a great country sound with alot of dynamic range for subtle to ear splitting tones. For those of you who want to dabble in some cool country tones try the Eastwood Classic 6 for a very reasonable starter country axe.
  • A Gibson thin line arch top like a Byrdland is also a great clean country axe, don’t believe me? Ask Roy Clark and Hank Garland (Mr. Sugarfoot Rag). One of my idols Scotty Moore (of Elvis fame) played an L5 and an ES-295 during his years with the King.
  • Amps: The cleaner the amp the better, period. A Twin Reverb comes to mind immediately as well the solid state high wattage steel guitar offerings from Peavey like the Nashville and Session 400. Amps with at least a 12-inch speaker will help you get that twang. If you are the only guitar player in the band consider using an amp with a 15-inch speaker. You can also use a smaller amp at a lower volume with a mike on it.

Gritty Country Sound:
Same guitars choice as above, just crank your amp up. 10 inch speakers are okay for this application. The Marshall TSL Series, Fender Deluxe. Vibrolux, and Super Reverb will make you smile.

Heavy Rock Sound:
Again I remind you I am an old school guy so I say….

  • Guitars: Gibson SG w/ humbuckers is my choice for ultimate heavy rock guitar. It cuts and yet is still as fat as your fifth grade Home Ec. teacher. Tony Iommi, Angus Young, and Glen Buxton (the most underrated heavy rock guitar player) are shining examples of what an SG in the hands of a capable axe murderer can do. Gibson Les Paul Customs like Steve Jones and Mick Ronson used to play also kill.
  • Those pointy guitars from the 80’s, Jackson, Charvel, Ibanex JEM and ESP’s are all a bit more edgy and hotter then a stock SG or Les Paul.
  • I also love the sound of P90 equipped solid body axes for a great crunch sound, maybe a more punky sound is a better explanation. Les Paul Jr.’s ala Johnny Thunders and Leslie West are prime examples of this guitars sound when cranked. I am sure these guys influenced Billy Joe Armstrong in his choice de axe. Again, Eastwood offers some great single coil guitars of this ilk, the P90 Special, Stormbird and JR Elite just to name a few.
    1962 Fender Telecaster Guitar – Sunburst
  • Amps: Marshall, Marshall and more Marshall. The JTM 800 is numero uno in my book, as well as the JCM 900 for a more modern shred vibe. I was also impressed with the Carvin stack offerings back in the day. THD, Randall, and Peavey also have really good sounding shred generators in many configurations.
Marshall Guitar Amps

Marshall Guitar Amps

Rock and Alternative Sound:
This is a potpourri of suggestions, please take one and pass the rest back.

  • Guitars: Well take your pick, I am just gonna rattle em off….first the off the wall ones. These are the “next big things.” Maybe? Remember Cobain’s JagStang? Gretsch solid bodies from the 70’s and 80’s ugly as your neighbors AMC Gremlin. Silvertone’s and Danelectro’s from the 60’s. Link Wray, Jimmy Page, duh! Kramer’s from the 80’s, Eddie something or other played one of these. Carvin solidbodies from the 80’s. Still a great deal on Ebay. Ovation guitars form the late 60’s and 70’s (the Deacon, the Breadwinner, and Tornado.) The pickups were nasty sounding, but oh so cool. Legit ones. Fender Telecaster, Rickenbacker solid and semi-solid guitars, Gretsch arch tops, Mosrite solidbodies, and Gibson solidbodies guitars w/ P90’s.
  • Amps: The Vox AC-30 is a seriously important amp in the history of rock and roll, for a very good reason, it’s an original. History tells us that early Marshall’s are in essence copies of a Fender Tweed Bassman. So the Vox is the only original amp design of the “Big Three”. Best news about that is that it sounds great! The Vox AC-15 is also a slammin’ amp. Portable, strong and ballsy just like my first wife.
  • Fender Deluxe Reverb, crank it up and feel the magic. The singularly most versatile amplifier in the history of guitardom. This little dynamo is IMHO the best sounding amp ever made (Blackface models produced from 1964 to 1967).
  • The Silvertone/Danelectro Twin Twelve. What a great/cheap amplifier should be. Two twelve inch speakers (usually Jensen’s) a killer tremolo and reverb. Most models I have seen run four 6L6’s in the output section. Although I own an early Danelectro Twin Twelve which runs a duet of 6L6’s that is a great amp. Also any of the Valco made amps will do the trick (Supro, National, Airline, Montgomery Ward).
  • There are so many great boutique amps out there that are really well built and versatile. They are expensive, usually very expensive. Also they are tough to try out as many of these amps are not in music stores. Making it hard to test drive them . And if they do have one, that’s the problem they only have one, so you can’t a/b them with your favorite guitar plugged into them. Some of the ones I have either owned or played are Victoria (a tweed Fender vibe), Matchless (some Vox like models). I also really liked the early Bedrock amps that were basically JTM 45 clones.

Secrets of the Great Guitar Players

Hello to all out there in guitar dominion, this month’s column will I hope reveal some of the great secrets of some of our favorite guitar players as well as dispel some common misunderstandings.

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

One of the greatest musicians of the 20th century was also a damn good guitar player, he stands alone as a composer, instrumentalist and satirist beyond compare. His name was Frank Zappa. Frank is still IMHO the most underrated musician in the rock and roll era.

Frank was a master at the use of wahwah (check out his early wah solo on Orange County Lumber Truck from the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh), one of his techniques was using the wah as an EQ boost. His feel for the wah was so good he could feel the notch in the pedals throw that would give him (for most part) that growling round sound that Frank was known for during the 70’s. Try it yourself plug in your SG (or any humbucking solidbody guitar) and get your favorite distortion sound. Now go to the neck pickup crank it up but do not roll off the treble as you would if you were trying to cop the Clapton ‘Woman tone’, leave it up full and roll off the highs using the wah. This will give the wah a full spectrum signal for it to work with.

Another Zappa secret was his uncanny ability to combine exotic scales with the pentatonic blues scale. If you watch any videos of Frank playing you will notice he is not in the “normal guitar boxes”. Viva la Frank!!!

Speaking of Frank Zappa, it is well documented that growing up two of his favorite guitarists were Guitar Slim and Johnny Guitar Watson. Frank in a Guitar Player magazine interview said that his favorite guitar solo of all time was Guitar Slims Story of my life. This solo has a tone and approach that is very Zappaesque.

Guitar Slim

Guitar Slim

One of the secrets of Guitar Slims sound was the fact that he preferred to plug his guitar into a PA amp as opposed to a guitar amp. This was probably a Bogen or Premier. What Slim liked about these amps I am sure was the loudness (I have seen p.a. amps from the early 40’s using 2 6L6’s way before Fender used these tubes for his amps) their high end, and most important their reaction to the signal of his guitar (Slim was reported to be using a Strat and a 52 Les Paul) which gave out more signal than the microphones of that era. End result? Distortion mmmm yummy yummy!!!

Jimmy Page with his Fender Telecaster

Jimmy Page with his Fender Telecaster

How come I don’t sound like Jimmy Page when I play the intro to Heartbreaker when I use my Les Paul? Is it because I don’t own a 59 Burst? What can I do to make my Les Paul sound like Jimmy’s? Well first of all you would have to transform it into a Telecaster. That’s right a Telecaster. Now let me explain how this happened.

A young Jimmy Page was the protégé of British studio legend Big Jim Sullivan. Jim was a member of an elite group of cats who like their American counterparts the “Wrecking Crew” played on most of the hit records of the 60’s recorded in England. The fact is that 95% of the records we grew up listening to in the 60’s were made by the same two dozen or so musicians. The truth is no producer (the music industries version of a movies director) would put his reputation on the line using some prettyboys who were signed because of the haircuts or their trousers. (Rutles 101). This fact by itself is what separates the Beatles, the Stones from everyone else, they were the first truly self contained band.

Now back to Sully, Page and the Tele. Sullivan could be seen weekly in the UK and US as a featured player on the Tom Jones Show. Sullivan was known for his swarthy good looks and his White Telecaster. Being a studio player Jim knew the merits of the Tele, how it cut through the mix and was a safe bet at sessions as far as its versatility. (A side note; there was a guitarist across the pond making ground breaking records with his Telecaster, his name was Joe Messina one of the house guitarists of Motown’s Funk brothers).

When Jimmy took his formidable talent and studio experience to the studio to produce the first Led Zeppelin record Jimmy had an early 60’s rosewood board white Tele in tow just like Big Jims.

Jimmy had already toured with the Yardbirds using the Tele as well as the first go round with Zeppelin in the UK (check out Zep on the DVD Supershow). But Page felt that the Tele was not fat enough sounding for a power trio setup, Jimmy soon switched to the Les Paul for good.

Jimi Hendrix in Studio

Jimi Hendrix in Studio

Jimi’s tone using the Fuzz boxes of the 60’s. We all know how thin sounding the fuzz boxes of the 60’s were. Whether it’s a Big Muff, an Octavia,or a Tonebender, they were all pretty thin sounding. Jimi Hendrix used all of these at one time or another, yet his tone was mostly pretty fat and round sounding (unless he was looking for a special effect) This leads us to Jimi’s secret tone maneuver.

It’s a really simple one. We all know now that Jimi used Marshall’s most of his career and we also know that Jimi made use of the channel jumper cable (as seen in many of Jimi’s live video’s) Jimi’s trick was to boost the bass sounding channel to even out the thin sound of the fuzz box. This gave Jimi the desired fat tone he was accustomed to when he came up using Fenders and Ampegs. The other benefit was that when Jimi would simply turn down his volume for his rhythm sound it was still quite big sounding. Rarely in the videos I have seen (many) did Jimi ever step on a fuzztone for a lead, when you have seen him go to a pedal for a lead it was to a wah for the tone boost.

Surf guys outboard reverb unit trick. Boy did the surf records of the early to mid 60’s blow my mind. Imagine guitar records with no singing, simple melodies that almost everyone could cop, and tons of self important guitar slinger attitude. I ran into a surf guitar legend years ago and I asked him how he ran his reverb, because I could see that he had something funky going on there as I saw that his guitar was plugged directly into the amp.

He smiled and told me that he and some of the other cats of that era were using a primitive effects loop so to speak. Here’s how they did it.

He ran the guitar into input one of his Showman and then ran a cable from input two to the input of his Fender reverb unit and ran the output of the reverb to the input of channel two (or normal channel). This way he could not only tailor the sound of the unit with the onboard controls he could also utilize the second channels volume and tone controls.

One benefit he did not realize too, was that the guitar running direct into the first channel did not have its dry input signal colored by the reverb unit! This setup is also called the poor mans effects loop.

Adrian Belew - The Twang Bar King

Adrian Belew - The Twang Bar King

What the hell is all that duct tape doing on the stage? Did you ever notice that when you have a single coil guitar plugged in that the amount of noise changes as you turn or move around? Yeah me too! Did you also ever notice that there were certain spots on the stage that you could get really good feedback if you turned a certain way? Yeah me too!

Over the years I have heard stories about how Hendrix would spend over an hour at his sound check finding those hot spots on the stage. Legend has it that Twang Bar King Adrian Belew took it to a new level by incorporating this feedback and sustain into his tunes as part of the melody and arrangement. This made it necessary to make these markings on the stage part of his setup. No room for spontaneity for Mr. Belew, he needed what he needed when he needed it.

So here’s the trick after the band sound checks bring out the tape and find your hot spots, even if you don’t utilize feedback you will still benefit from knowing where on the stage your guitar will be most responsive.

Joey Leone with his amps

Joey Leone with his amps

That’s it for now my friends so, “keep those cards and letters coming in.”


Let’s Go Surfin’: How to Get the Classic Surf Guitar Sound

Since its inception, legions of surf guitar players have engaged in heated debate about gear. Suffice it to say, everyone has an opinion. However, newbies often want a simple answer to the question, “What do I need to get going?” Here’s our surf music guitar guide to help you out!


Below, I lay out the answers, based on the classic traditional surf sound of the Sixties. Whether you want to nail the sound with vintage gear, or whether you are on a budget, you’ll find useful guidelines here.

Surf Guitar Gear Basics

Instrumental surf music has its own distinct sound – influenced by both the natural sounds of waves crashing on the beach, the typically rudimentary skills of its early performers, and technological breakthroughs in amplified guitar technology during the hey-day of surf music, the early 1960s. In short, the key characteristics of the surf guitar sound are a clean tube-amp tone and heavy reverb. Not coincidentally, those sounds are closely associated with Fender musical instruments. Back in the day, all Fender instruments were made in Southern California, just a mountain range away from the Pacific Ocean. Naturally, Fender had a huge impact on the early surf musicians blasting out their instro tunes in the music halls of SoCal.

Surf Guitars

Most early surf bands made use of a full array of Fender gear, beginning with the famous single-coil guitars that still define “the Fender sound.” Dick Dale, the father of surf guitar, played his staccato machine-gun sound with the help of “the Beast” a highly personalized Fender Stratocaster.

Today, the Strat remains a favorite choice for surf guitar slingers. The most popular Fender surf machines, however, are the Jazzmaster and its twangy, shorter-scaled cousin, the Jaguar. While nothing tops a vintage Jazz or Jag dated anywhere from 1958 (the first year of the Jazzmaster) to about 1966 (the venerated “pre-CBS” era, when Fender was still owned and operated by Leo Fender), you’ll have to shell out mucho dinero for the authentic item.

Fender Jazzmaster

Fender Jazzmaster.. proper surfin’ vibes!

Fortunately, Fender has created excellent reissues of its classic instruments. Most players would agree, Made in America (often designated as “MIA”) vintage reissues of the Jazz and Jag come very close to the sound and mojo of the originals, and can be had new or used for less than a king’s ransom. For those on a budget, the Made in Japan/Crafted In Japan models (often denoted as “CIJ” and “MIJ”) come very close to the feel and tone of the American-made models, at about half the price.

A minority of players seek out other vintage guitars popular among early surf bands. Mosrite guitars, made by California’s Semie Mosely, were made famous by The Ventures – not strictly a surf band, but still a vital group in the pantheon of surf music legends. Other popular surf guitars include single-coil models manufactured by Japanese manufacturer Teisco Del Rey, American-maker Danelectro, and the Italian firm Eko. Plus dozens of Japanese guitars churned out during the 1960s and 1970s.

Any of the recent Eastwood Mosrite Reissue models are a great choice if you want to go down the Ventures route:

Eastwood Sidejack

Eastwood Sidejack, a great option for surf music

That said, anyone new to the surf sound can get by with most any solid-body electric guitar featuring single-coil pickups. For the economy-minded, a Fender Squier Strat is a good choice. Yamaha also makes some surfy guitars loosely fashioned after the wild SGV models of the late 1960s. Other brands to consider are the Danelectro-style guitars made by Reverend, the retro-60s guitars made by Eastwood, reissue Danelectros, DiPintos, and the many Strat-clones made by just about everyone.

Back in the early 1960s, strings were quite heavy when compared to the light, thin, slinky strings favored on most guitars today. If you want a dedicated surf guitar, as opposed to one set up for playing a wide array of rock music, you’ll want to stock up on the heavier guages – high “E” strings of 11, 12, even 13. The true surf sound was typically played on ribbon-wound or “flat” wound strings; these help reduce string-slide sounds and have a mellower tone than the more common round-would strings. However, this is an item of personal preference; many surf guitar players swear by flat-wounds, while most continue to play the cheaper and more widely available round-wounds.

The Ventures

The Ventures, one of the greatest surf bands ever, played Mosrites

One last note: one other characteristic of the surf sound is whammy bar dips. Not the dive-bombing acrobatics of Eddie Van Halen, but a nice quarter or half-tone warble. Any worthy surf guitar should have a bridge set up to create this sound; used judiciously, they will stay in tune. Hard-bridge guitars, such as most Telecasters, lack this feature, making them less desirable among surf guitar players.

Surf Bass Guitars

Surf music played a big role in the acceptance of the electric bass and the movement away from the standup basses used by Jazz, blues, and rockabilly musicians of the 1950s. The surf players ushered in the era of the electric bass, launching the modern rock bass sound. Of course, the surf bands used Fender basses, both the Precision bass and the Jazz bass. Another popular brand was the Danelectro Longhorn bass, with its distinctive double-cutaway body.

Just as if their guitars, Mosrite basses were also used by surf bands, such as The Ventures. The Eastwood Sidejack Bass 32 is a pretty good choice, if you want something similar:

Sidejack Bass 32

The Sidejack Bass 32… great choice for surf music

Surf Guitar Amps

Think clean, sparkly treble and a round, clear bass tone. That’s the essence of surf amp sound. The most famous and venerable surf amps are the classic Fender Showman and Dual Showman. These were early amp “heads” intended to be played through Fender amp cabinets, typically with big 15″ JBL D-130F speakers. These setups have mountains of clean headroom, sufficient to spread the sweet surf guitar sound across an entire auditorium of stomp-crazed beach kids looking for some fun on a Saturday night. You can still find a bargain on Showman heads by shopping eBay, but snapping up the matching cabs with JBL speakers will cost you a month’s salary or more.

Fender Bandmaster

Fender Bandmaster

Other popular early Fender amps are the Twin Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, Bandmaster, Vibrolux, and Super Reverb. Any of these true vintage Fenders will likely put you deeply in debt. Fortunately, Fender has revived many of its timeless designs, which are available as the reissue series. The ’65 Twin Reverb, the ’65 Twin Reverb Special 15, Custom Vibrolux, and the Deluxe Reverb Reissue are all excellent choices for surf music. If you want to lay out serious dead-presidents, the VibroKing Custom comes with a built-in ’63 Fender Reverb (see “Reverb” section, below), while the new SuperSonic combines the tones of the classic Vibrolux, ’66 Bassman, and modern high-gain amps.

That said, there are many other affordable – and not so affordable – amplifiers from which to choose. For novices who want to play at home, the Fender Blues Junior gets great tube tone. Other good choices are the Fender Blues Deluxe, a 40-watt with great versatility, and its beefier brother, the Fender Blues Deville (also sold as the ‘Hot Rod’ series amps). A bargain-basement amp that has excellent surf tone is the Fender Frontline 25R, a surprisingly warm-sounding solid state amp. Of course, you can play through a classic Marshall stack or Vox AC30 (the amp used by the fab British instrumental band, The Shadows). Anything is possible – just bear in mind, you’ll be straying from the classic surf sound.

Another choice (and this is mainly for guitar players with lucrative careers as doctors, attorneys, business execs, and mafia captains) are boutique amps. Many makers, most notably Kendrick and Victoria, have re-created hand-wired amplifiers based on the classic Fender circuits. You’ll get classic Fender tone without having to worry about the reliability issues that come with owning a 50-year-old piece of electronic gear. Unfortunately, the boutique makers seem to focus largely on the tweed-era Fenders of the 1950s, rather than the black-face amps of the 1960s, when surf guitar ruled. So, some of the boutique amps seem better suited to mildly distorted blues than to crystal-clear surf.

Surf Guitar Reverb

Ahhh, reverb. One of the earliest effects created for guitar, and the essential ingredient of surf sound. Originally intended to create an ambient atmosphere, like a large music hall, reverb came to the fore in surf music with the creation of the Fender Reverb based on the G15 circuit. Turned up midway, they do capture the sounds of amplified music bouncing off the walls at a high school hop. But turn the dwell, tone and mix knobs up past the mid-mark, and you start to get the wonderful resonance of a guitar played at the bottom of a well, or in a long tunnel, or perhaps through the barrel of a breaking wave. Coveted by surf musicians, these original tube reverb units are the standard by which all reverb is compared – and by which most fail.

Basically a stand-alone box, tube reverb works by taking the original guitar signal, pushing it through a series of springs mounted in a box, then recapturing and amplifying the sound again before sending it along to the amplifier. Soon after the creation of the tube reverb effect, Fender began adding reverb to nearly all of its popular amp models; however, most will agree that the reverb effect built into the amp itself is a pale and sickly cousin when compared to a true Fender reverb.

Today, you can buy reissue models of the classic Fender ’63 Reverb, but bear in mind, these are not actual copies of the originals. While the circuits are similar on paper, the newer units have circuit board construction, rather than the hand-wired circuitry of the originals. You can, however, find hand-wired reverbs by boutique makers such as Victoria, Soldano, and Kendrick, all based more-or-less on the original G15 circuit. You can also buy a kit and build your own (Weber Vintage Speaker Technology of Kokomo, Ind., is a good source for such kits).

If you can’t spend the $250 for a used reissue much less the $600 or more you will pay for a vintage Fender reverb or a boutique clone of the original, you can go with a variety of pedals, starting as low as $35 for a Danelectro mini-pedal to about $150 for a Little Lanilei reverb pedal that actually uses a spring reverb tank. Other popular models include the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail and Holier Grail, the Verbzilla, and the Digitech Digiverb, which all get excellent reverb sounds for just over $100.

Finally, you may find that the reverb in your amp works plenty good. You may not get the sputtering “boosh” sounds of a true Fender Reverb, but you may find that it’s enough reverb for your throbbing versions of ‘Pipeline’ and ‘Miserlou.’ Then again, you might be like surf guitar aficionado Jeff ‘Big Tiki Dude,’ who believes that there is no such thing as too much ‘verb.

Good surfin’!

Post by: Gavin Ehringer

10 Perfect Guitars & Their Applications

We all know there are some great, classic electric guitars out there… but which ones can be truly deemed “perfect guitars”? Well, this Top 10 list may just have the answer!

Eric Clapton Live

Eric Clapton Live… with his trustworthy Strat!

Hi everyone I hope you have been enjoying my column, here’s more stuff to ponder. It seems every time you turn around there’s another list, 100 best this, 10 worst that’s. Well here’s another list for ya! But at least this one does not involve Paris Hilton. I now that some of my listings may be a bit controversial (one in particular) as I said before these are my opinions based on my experiences. Like all things in music they are not right or wrong, just some good-natured opinions that will hopefully stimulate your own thoughts on this subject.

Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar

Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar

#1 Fender Stratocaster: The guitar that defined rock and roll music.
This guitar is as crucial a design and tool as can be expressed. It is unparalleled in it’s uniqueness and sound. Nothing sounds like a Strat, the bridge pickup sounds similar but not the same as a Tele bridge pickup. The same can be said for the neck pickup, and the middle pickup is so unique I cannot think of another guitar sound that can be mistaken for it. And the “between the pickups” sound is what it is truly Strat-esque. Leo was a god among men.

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar

#2 Fender Telecaster: The most versatile guitar ever made.
The Telecaster, Leo Fender’s maiden voyage into the uncharted world of guitardom. The only guitar that can be credibly used as a rock, blues, country and yes, jazz guitar (even with the stock single coil in the neck position). The best way I describe the Tele when asked why it is my favorite guitar is that my ideas on the Tele are mostly musical ideas not sonic ideas (like the Strat). The Telecaster don’t play itself brother, it’s all there for the taking, but you must be man enough to take it. It’s low maintenance and very consistent from Tele to Tele.

Martin D-28 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar

Martin D-28 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar

#3 Martin D-28: The standard of what an acoustic guitar should sound like.
I dunno I guess I must have been a real jerk when I was young, because I thought Martins were overrated and inconsistent. I was so brainwashed that one day I went into a guitar shop in New York with the sole intention of buying a J-200. While I was there the proprietor said I must check out this Martin D-28, and I did. Let me tell you this guitar was a dream come true, it came alive when you strummed a chord. The top vibrated so strongly I checked to see if it was cracked. It sounded even and true, it sounded so good that I thought to myself “I ain’t good enough to play this guitar.” So I bought the J-200 with the fancy clouds on the fretboard that sounded like a surfboard. BTW I recently contacted the guy who bought that J-200 and it still sounds like a surfboard 20 years later. The D-28 works for all kinds of music, bluegrass, rock and even blues as it is a very underestimated slide guitar ( not many of us have the scratch to play a 28 for slide only though).

Gibson ES-175 Electric Guitar

Gibson ES-175 Electric Guitar

#4 Gibson ES 175: The best amplified arch top.
I am sure Joe Pass could have played an L5 if he wanted to, and after playing the ES 175 live I understood why many jazz guitar players chose the mid line maple top box. I have found them to be consistent and manageable at higher volumes or when you are set up close to your amp. I also own a Gibson Tal Farlow and have found it to be an ornate version of the 175. I also like the Lawsuit Ibanez 175 copies very much if you don,t mind the narrow neck profile.

Gibson SG Electric Guitar

Gibson SG Electric Guitar

#5 Gibson SG: The ultimate rock and roll guitar.
Short and sweet here. It’s easy to play, it’s light, it looks amazing, it cuts through like no other humbucking guitar on the planet, and it sounds good with virtually any decent amplifier. Here we go, Young, Iommi, Zappa, Clapton, Harrison, Santana (early w/ P90’s), Townsend (also P90’s). Great lead guitar, awesome rhythm guitar. SG Suggestion: Try a hi-output Humbucker in the bridge position like a DiMarzio Super Distortion it will amaze you; it will still cut like a knife.

Gibson L5 Archtop Guitar

Gibson L5 Archtop Guitar

#6 Gibson L5: The standard for what an acoustic arch top is.
I am speaking strictly about the acoustic L5 model only. This is the model that greats like Freddie Green played so well in the big band setting. A little background on the non amplified arch top, I always felt that the guitar player in early big bands served as a chord voice in the rhythm section just as the banjo player did in the New Orleans jazz bands in the early 20th century. They kept the rhythm for the musicians and were barely heard by the audience. Just say it, Gibson L5. Ahhh!

Gretsch 6120 Electric Guitar

Gretsch 6120 Electric Guitar

#7 Gretsch 6120: Eddie Cochran and Chet Atkins, what else needs sayin?
The match of a visionary guitar player and a Gretsch 6120 seems to very common in guitar lore. This guitar has an arch top design, that combined with the Bigsby tremolo and the Filtron pickups give this guitar a sound that is rockabilly yet with a tweak of the tone controls can be tamed into a great accompaniment guitar as well. I always felt that the sound from this Gretsch was somewhere between an ES series Gibson and a Telecaster (not a bad neighborhood). My experience also tells me that the 6120 sounds damn good plugged into almost any amp I ever heard it with. One of my faves was my 6120 plugged into a Lab Series L5 amp housing a 15 inch JBL E130 speaker. This guitar is great for rockabilly, country, surf, chordal rock rhythm guitar, and any ensemble music.

Martin 000-28 Acoustic Guitar

Martin 000-28 Acoustic Guitar

#8 Martin 000-28: The ultimate blues and finger style acoustic guitar.
Also the OM-35 the long scale version of the 000 body size. I know this might be a somewhat controversial choice but, this comes from my own playing experience as well. I always marveled how the great bluesman would manhandle the guitars they played, in lieu of the fact that many of them had these enormous hands. I always felt that the mass of these hands in comparison to the at most times low budget guitars they played led to the sound they produced. This particular mortal (me!) who did not sharecrop or toil as many of these great men had to do just can’t seem to be able to get that sound from a dreadnought, but when I play a 000 size guitar I feel like Big Bill (Broonzy) himself. I can fingerpick with ease and muffle and mute just like Lightning Hopkins. The even sound of the 000 also lends itself to the unaccompanied nature of solo blues guitar. You may ask “why have I not seen some of these great bluesman play a 00-28?” My answer to that question is two-fold I believe economics is one, and the fact that many of our legendary bles pickers preferred more ornate guitars, and stayed away from the “country guitars.” The Martin 000-28 is a true classic!

Danelectro Solid Body Guitar

Danelectro Solid Body Guitar

#9 Danelectro solid body: The best cheap guitar ever made.
As far a the Danny is concerned, I ask you will it compete with the Les Paul or Strat as your primary guitar? Obviously not, but I ask you is there a more versatile/ quality “off the wall” guitar. It’s an unreal slide guitar (see Lindley in your guitar dictionary). A great rootsy rhythm or lead guitar, and how many of the great Chicago bluesman have you seen playing these guitars? They cut through very well when played alongside other guitars. And the shielding and pickups were very ahead of their times. They look god awful cool, they stay in tune when set up decently. And again I will say that I have never heard a Danny not sound like a Danny through any amp, actually the cheaper the amp the better they sound. I actually prefer the two pickup model for slide and the three pickup for regular application. The twelve strings and odd ball models like the sitar and bellzouki and Guitarlin also sound awesome. The reissues are as good as the originals, and actually play better, although I like the sound of the old pickups better. Go out and buy a half dozen of them right now!!!

Gibson Les Paul Jr Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Jr Electric Guitar

#10 Gibson Les Paul Junior: Turn it up and bang away a no frills no brainer.
The name “Junior” almost demeans the stature of this guitar. When I say perfect I mean that perfect for the application it is used for. Ask anyone who has ever owned one they all say the same thing – “I should have never got rid of that Jr.”; I am also including all the Les Paul Junior variants as well as the early SG Jr.s as they all serve the same purpose to me. I have always felt that when guitar god Leslie West played his Junior his technique was so strong that it compressed the sound like he was squeezing a golf ball through a garden hose. The guitar reacted so well to his hands, there had to be a reason Leslie played the Junior for so long. First of all has anybody ever heard a bad sounding ones? The only difference I have heard was that I prefer the fatter neck Jr.s as they seen more stable and have a bit mote chunk and sustain. These guitars sound great coming through any amp, although they obviously do not sound as good through a solid state amp. I sometimes wish that I could play my Jr.s more often, but my particular style demands a bit of a more versatile guitar. Yes, the Jr. is not a very versatile guitar, but its still perfect as far as what it does, and what it does is kicks ass!

The Best Of The Rest…

These guitars are great, but not perfect. Let’s say… they are a respectable 9 out of 10!

Les Paul model
Too inconsistent, too many variables great ones are great, bad ones suck. Some are way too heavy, I have seen Les Pauls that weighed in excess if 12 lbs, that’s too much and way too inconsistent. I have always believed from the over 30 years of guitar worship that the Les Paul was the red headed stepchild at Gibson and did not get the attention it deserved. Here’s a hint or two on picking a good Paul – from me to you: #1 if the neck pickup has a high endy squawky “cut” you are well on your way. #2 if it could replace a Tele in a pinch it’s a winner in my book. Muddy, low mid laden Pauls give the model a bad name.

Mosrite Ventures
Great look and design, great sound but, Too thin neck and too small frets, bad tremolo (arm too short and too close to the body and gets “mushy” fast, Not great woods that many times don’t match in weight and density. For a more modern take on the design, make sure to check the Eastwood Sidejack series, which is getting even more popular than the originals!

Gibson ES-335
Some with necks that are unplayably thin. Bridge pickups are not trebly enough (not pickups themselves I believe it’s a design flaw). Great blues guitar in the right hands. A one trick pony.

Gibson ES-345 and 355
The Varitone need I say more? I own several of them but they cannot be my only guitar at a gig.

Gibson L5 CES
Too much pickup for a spruce top arch top. The guitar explodes out of your hand when played proximate to an amp, Useless treble pickup. Yeah I know Wes Montgomery played one (his was a one pickup model), well lets not compare ourselves to Wes okay? I also heard from a reliable source that Wes altered his guitars so they wouldn’t feedback, and that his left hand technique restricted this problem also.

Gibson acoustics: J-200/ J45/J160
Inconsistent, too long to break in, by the time you know whether you have a good one or not you are ready to retire. Buy a used one that sounds good and be happy you got a good one.

Rickenbacker V64 12-string
Aside from the string spacing being too close this is a perfect 12 string electric, but not perfect. Check out the Carl Wilson model if you can find one. George, how did you do it?

Tone Secrets of the Electric 12-String Guitar

I’ve been playing the electric twelve string guitar professionally for the last 16 years in my band The Carpet Frogs. Guitar players have often complimented me on the tone of my electric 12 string and have asked me how I get that “authentic” sound!

Rickenbacker 360/12 Old Style 12-String Electric Guitar

Rickenbacker 360/12 Old Style 12-String Electric Guitar

For me, it all started with the two Godfathers of the electric 12 string: George Harrison of the Beatles and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Obviously, the first ingredient is a great 12 string. The Granddaddy of them all is the Rickenbacker 12 string.

Ricks have been handmade in the same factory in Santa Ana, California for many years and if you can find a dealer that sells and stocks Rickenbacker, you will pay thousands of dollars and you may end up waiting many months for the model of your dreams. I waited 8 months for my 360/12 Old Style when I bought it in 1990.

If you play in a weekend band or jam with your friends, you may find that the electric 12 string, once you have done all of the mandatory Beatles, Byrds, Animals, Who, Tom Petty, R.E.M., and Smiths tunes, has a rather limited use for the rest of your repertoire. Or, maybe not. If you’re like me, you’d happily play the electric 12 all night!

12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

Crank up the input gain, compress the bejeezuz out of your 12 string and jangle away!

Tone Secret Number One: Compression!

George Harrison’s great 12 string tone came from a combination of three things: his matchless technique, the venerable Vox AC 30, and the Altec limiter that was in the Abbey Road studios. The Vox, with its all-tube EL 84 platform and its GZ34 rectifier gives any guitar that creamy, brown, compression sustain and chime but it really sparkles when you play an electric12 through it.

The Altec limiter is an old tube-type studio compressor/limiter that squishes the sound at the mixing console and simply enhanced the sound of those old AC 30’s.

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds has said that his tone came from recording his Rickenbacker directly into the console and running it through not one, but two Pultec Limiters at the same time! Listen to the opening figure of “Mr.Tambourine Man” and you’ll hear those compressors squeezing away!

Now I know many of you don’t have George’s or Roger’s technique (neither do I), or access to old AC 30’s (that can cost upwards of $5,000 for collectible examples) or old pieces of studio gear like Altec or Pultec limiters, but you can achieve the same effect with a good quality stomp box compressor. My personal favourite is the Diamond Compressor made here in Canada but any good compressor will do: Keely, Ross, Analog Man, Barber, MXR DynaComp, and the old standby BOSS CS-2 or 3.

Tone Secret Number Two: Flatwounds!

I discovered this Tone Secret the day I got my Rickenbacker 12. I had played other makes of electric 12’s before but they had never produced “that sound” that my Rick had. What was different about it? The single coil pickups that come standard on a Rick? The way Rickenbacker arranged the strings with the root string on top and the octave string underneath?

Both of these things had an influence on the way it sounded but the most important difference to me was the strings. They were not round wound like 99% of the strings that are on the market these days: they were flat wound!

Back when George and Roger were young men (1964), and before the late Ernie Ball started making round wound light gauge guitar strings in California, almost everybody played flat wound strings – that’s what was widely popular and available at the time. Round wounds were available but it wasn’t until The Shadows made them popular that there was a demand for them in Europe. The best flat wound strings in the world came from Germany (and still do) and were sold under the brand names of Pyramid and Thomastik.

Rickenbacker in California was buying Pyramids from Germany at the time (presumably because of the relationship they enjoyed with West German music retailers who were selling Rickenbacker guitars) so that was the string that was being installed on Rickenbackers from the California factory in early ’63 and ’64. So, the sound you hear on Beatles, Byrds, and The Who recordings – those are flat wound strings! The great Pete Townsend refers to them as “tape wound”. He won’t play his 12 string with anything else but!
Pyramid strings are still available to this day (you can find them on the Internet) and Rickenbacker still sells their Number 95404 Compressed Medium Round Wound.

(ground wound) set for about $20.00 a set. I buy them by the box of 12 from a store in New York. I prefer the Rick strings: just a tad brighter than Pyramids.

Round wound strings on an electric 12 string sound like doo-doo. Too crashy and too clangy. Flat wounds or ground round wounds are the way to go if you want “that sound”. If you can’t find Rickenbacker strings where you live, your local music store probably sells or can order D’Addario Chrome singles in a flat wound with which you can assemble your own 12 string set.

The string gauge shipped on every new Rickenbacker is as follows from low to high:

  • .042/.026
  • .034/.020W
  • .026/.013plain
  • .020wound/.010
  • .013/.013
  • .010/.010.
12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

Tone Secret Number Three: Use a light gauge pick!

Try it! It works! A medium is too stiff and , in my opinion, “sends” too much signal to the pickup. I have found that with a light gauge pick, you can strum harder but still have a sound that doesn’t break up from string distortion (over strumming).

That kind of vibe (string distortion) works great for, say, a PRS through a Dual Rectifier but not for the sweet chimey strings on your 12 string. I keep a medium and a thin pick in my back pocket whenever I’m on stage depending on whether it’s a 12 string song or a 6 string song.

The great Colin Cripps of Hamilton, Ontario, revealed this Tone Secret to me many years ago. Colin is the guitar player/composer/producer of bands like Crash Vegas, Junkhouse, The Jim Cuddy Band, and Kathleen Edwards.

Tone Secret Number Four: Get your 12-string set up!

Find yourself a good guitar technician and get him or her to set up your 12 string.

The #1 complaint I hear from new 12 string players is that they put the guitar down because it’s too difficult to play.

The 12 string, by its design, is a different and difficult instrument to play because basically you are stuffing 12 strings into the same real estate as 6 strings. Players with small hands (like me) don’t find a problem especially with Rickenbackers, which have notoriously narrow necks.

A good guitar tech will straighten the neck as well as it can possibly can be – this is really important. He/she may also suggest that the frets be “dressed”, polished and leveled. This will benefit your 12 string and make it very playable. Ask him/her to set the action as low as possible – this is really important!

Another innovation that Rickenbacker has developed is the 12 saddle tuneomatic bridge, which ensures near-perfect intonation. If your 12 string doesn’t have one, don’t despair. Any good guitar tech worth his or her salt will get your 12 string intonated as close as it can possibly be even if you have a 6 saddle bridge – very important if you want those big jangly chords to be as sweetly in tune as they should be.

A well-set electric 12 string should play like a brand new PRS or (insert your favourite guitar brand here). If it doesn’t, find yourself a new guitar tech!


As a professional musician – yes, I’ve got the Vintage AC-30 and the Ricky 12 – hard to see it any other way. However, there is a price to pay for perfection, and therefor II recommend to my guitar-playing friends who jam for fun, to buy an electric 12 that’s a little more affordable than a Rick. There aren’t many electric 12 strings on the market these days but one model that fits the bill very nicely is the new Eastwood Nashville 12.

Mike Robinson from Eastwood consulted with me prior to the development of this model. We discussed a variety of options and settled on this style as is was possible to achieve the tone (mini-humbukers) and setup (flat neck, low action) that would make it a “professional” grade instrument at an affordable price. Last month I visited Eastwood Guitars and took the prototype for a test drive. Two big thumbs up…… jangle away!

Suggested Listening:

  • Mr.Tambourine Man by The Byrds
  • I Should Have Known Better by The Beatles
  • A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
  • The Waiting by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
  • Kicks by Paul Revere and The Raiders
  • You Were On My Mind by We Five
  • Turn!Turn!Turn! by The Byrds
  • Can’t Explain by The Who
  • The Kids Are Alright by The Who
  • It’s My Life by The Animals

Melody is Boss

What is it that makes one tune different from another? Melody.

What makes a song a hit and what is it that you remember? Melody .

What is the only aspect of music that you can copyright? Melody.

Melody is boss. Which is why I always shudder a bit when I hear ‘scales’, ‘modes’ and ‘improvisation’ mentioned in the same sentence. (I just shuddered).

Sure, you can rattle off scales and string riffs together and throw in the odd mode or two, but unless you’re thinking melody, you have not made music; you are not improvising. You may have confirmed that you know which building blocks fit, but you’ve created nothing new. Improvisation to me implies invention, and you don’t invent scales any more than an artist invents Cobalt Blue or Vermilion Red. Scales and modes are like the squirts of paint on a palette. You have to choose carefully which to use, which to blend. Start mixing too many colors and you wind up with mud.

Think melody, is my advice. Don’t let your hand dictate what you play. More often than not, two or three well-chosen notes are far more musical (melodic) than a run through a scale, or worse, an inappropriate modal… thing. Let your heart lead you. Of course you should know your scales, just as an artist should know his or her colors, but to truly invent something new, like a spontaneous melodic line, you can’t be thinking scales or modes.

The rules of improvisation are set by the key of the piece of music generally, and specifically, by what I call the ‘chord of the moment’. Both provide the framework upon which you can drape your melodies. When chords from outside the key intrude, consider them as key changes.

On the face of it, music seems like a highly complex set of relationships: intervals, chords, scales, modes, keys, harmony, rhythm, tempo, ‘feel’. But really, all these elements are there because of melody. In fact, the entire multi billion dollar music industry exists because we love melody.

If you’re still looking for a way of ‘seeing’ the music on the fretboard, a way of distilling any musical moment down to it’s barest essentials, visit my site and read about my book PlaneTalk-The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Book. It is a comic strip conversation in which I describe in great detail (in plain old English) the trick I use to keep track of everything, a simple visualisation trick that years ago opened up the whole fretboard to me.

And remember, Melody is boss.

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