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How to Learn to Play the Guitar: for Beginners

The guitar is a beautiful instrument. Whether you play Classical or Jazz, Folk Music or Rock
Music, there is no instrument that is easier to learn, nor is there one which creates such a
variety of voices and sounds.

best acoustic guitar-courtesy of shutter stock
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

If You Want to Be a Guitarist …

Once you have fallen in love with the guitar and what it can do, there is really no single
correct way to learn to play. Some of the most famous guitar players taught themselves, by
listening to their favourite guitarists. How do you do that? How can you just pick up a guitar
and learn how to play it?

Here are five tips for the beginner guitar player:

Tip No. 1. Learn About the Instrument First.

The guitar has a long history of development, with some scholars saying that the modern
guitar is an ancestor of the Lute or the Greek Kithara. Others say that the modern guitar
developed from the Egyptian Tanbur. Whatever the truth is about the guitar’s history, there
are many types of guitar. Acoustic guitars, classical guitars, steel string guitars, flamenco
guitars, electric guitars. There is a type of guitar for almost every type of music that can be
played.

It is important to learn about the instrument that you are going to play. Beginner players may
need to learn about the parts of the guitar from the head-stock to the sound-hole to the
bridge. It’s necessary to learn how to string and re-string a guitar and to learn which kind of
strings your new guitar will need.

Beginner players also need to learn how to keep their guitar in its best condition. This means
learning how to clean it and where to keep when it is not in use.

Tip No. 2. Learn the Chords.

It is said that there are 2,341 chords in total that can be played up and down the neck of the
guitar. For beginners, the most important chords to learn may be the open chords. These are
the chords from C to B that can be played without the need to barre the strings. By learning
to play some chord combinations in varying keys, the beginner player will get a sense of how
songs can be create. They will also learn some of wonderful songs that have already been
written. A sense of rhythm starts to develop naturally as the beginner player strums the
chords.

Tip No. 3. Learn Some Strumming and Finger-picking Techniques.

Most guitar players develop their own sense of rhythm and a strumming style. This is part of
the creativity that grows as a person learns to play any musical instrument. The beginner
guitar player needs to learn coordination, or how to fit the chords he/she has learned into the
rhythm of the music. This means fitting chord changes into a key signature such as 2/4
timing, 4/4 timing, 3/4 timing, 6/8 timing. There are many timing patterns that music is played
in. It’s a good idea to learn some simple finger picking patterns early on as well. This can
give the beginner another way of hearing timing, as well as extending their technique and
flexibility.

Tip No. 4. Learn Some Songs and Easy Pieces of Classical Music.

Learning songs is a good way to bring all the techniques together.It makes all of the more
technical learning worthwhile. As the beginner player learns how chords become songs, it is
also a good idea to learn the individual notes of each string up to the first three frets at least.
By doing this the guitar player learns which notes are in each chord. The first barre chords
that the guitar player will learn are usually the barred F Chord and the barred G chord. These
chords are played on the first and third frets respectively. This ties in with learning the notes
of the first three frets.

Tip No.5. Practise Every Day.

For people who love playing the guitar this will not be difficult. Practice is important, not so
much because practice makes perfect, but because practice leads the guitar player forward.
There are many songs and many pieces of music that can be played on the first three frets of
the guitar. Frequent practice opens the keyboard up to the player. Suddenly, you understand
that riff by one of your favourite guitarists. Suddenly you can play some licks that you never
thought you would be able to play. Unless you actually dislike playing the guitar, which is
highly unlikely, practice is not a chore. It is the time when you sit down and have fun with a
guitar. Well, maybe practising scales is not a lot of fun.

So those are my top five tips for beginner guitar players. Going through the five stages of
learning could take up to two years. In those two years a beginner player will be well on the
way to being a good player. My last tip is to listen to great guitar music as often as possible.


 

About the website

http://guitarreviewed.com is site that offers lots of information about acoustic guitars to those
who wish to buy a first or even a second instrument. The review of each guitar includes a
photograph of the guitar, followed by a description of the guitar’s features, its price and the
things about the guitar that were either Liked or Not Liked.

About the Author

Hi, my name’s Joe. I was born in the 1980’s and was inspired by rock musicians such as Eric
Clapton, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana. I also like the sounds of Classical Guitarists such as
John Williams. I write the acoustic guitar reviews on Guitar Reviewed and I sit down to play
the guitar every day, because I love the guitar.

Technique 101: Five Songs You Should Learn

Whether it was Jimi Hendrix ripping through a solo with his strat behind his head, or Michael Hedges creating soundscapes on his acoustic with both hands on the neck, somewhere down the line somebody inspired you to pick up a guitar. As much as you wanted to, however, you likely weren’t able to immediately bust out the solo to “Red House” or play through “Aerial Boundaries”.
As with anything, learning to play the guitar should be approached with baby steps. You need to learn to walk before you can run, and in order to play like your heroes you’ll need a solid grasp on some fundamentals first.
While finger exercises, scales, and theory may be important, you can pick up a lot of technical know-how just by learning a few introductory level songs. The most important part is to find songs that aren’t too demanding, and are achievable with regular practise. Below I’ll list five techniques, and a good candidate of a song / riff you can learn to start getting used to them. Let’s start with the basics…

1. Chord Changes – “Hey Joe”, by Jimi Hendrix

 

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One of the first obstacles you’ll be faced with when learning to play is memorizing chords, and figuring out how the heck you’re supposed to contort your fingers to switch between them. The truth is, these “shapes” that your fingers need to be placed in are not built into your DNA. There’s nothing else you’ve ever had to do that requires your hand, wrist, or fingers to hold such patterns, and as such you’ve got to work them into shape. The only way to teach yourself (and your hand) these chords is through repetition and practise; it’s all about muscle memory here.

The song “Hey Joe” is a great introductory to chord changes for a few different reasons. The first is that it forces you to learn five essential major chords, C, G, D, A, and E. The second is… it’s only five chords! The entire rhythm guitar section of the song is just a loop of these five chords in a relatively simple strumming pattern, so if you can manage the switches, then you’ve got it down. The third reason deals with the chords in question. Some chords are easier to switch between than others, allowing you to leave a finger or two in the same spot. Some chords allow you to play all six strings, while others demand that you avoid a string or two. Some chords require the use of one finger to hold down multiple strings… and the list goes on. In “Hey Joe”, each chord is far enough apart from each other that you are required to make a substantial shape change, getting your hand used to arriving at and leaving each chord. It also exercises your strumming hand, as you’re required to play all six strings for a couple of the chords, and only some of the strings for the others. If you can play through this tune, then you’re well on your way to saying goodbye to your chord changing woes.

2. Fingerpicking – “Blackbird”, by The Beatles

 

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If you’ve spent most of your practise time strumming chords, or plucking out melodies with your pick, learning to fingerpick might be a daunting task at first. This technique is, of course, all about your picking hand, and getting your fingers used to where your strings are. What I mean by that is, at first you will likely be looking down at your picking hand, making sure you use the “right” finger on the “right” string, etc. The more you practise, the more you will just get accustomed to the distance between each string, as well as various patterns that tend to appear in songs. This is part of the reason I like “Blackbird” for an introductory to this technique.

As far as the right hand is concerned, the song revolves around just two patterns. Try this: hold a G chord, and with your thumb and middle finger pluck the low E string and the open B string together at the same time. Then pluck the open G string on its own with your first finger. Repeat these over and over… and you’ve essentially got the picking hand pattern used for half of the song. Of course… your thumb will occasionally move to the A or D string, but you can worry about that later. A large portion of this song is about getting used to moving back and forth between your index finger and second finger, while maintaining a bass-line with your thumb…which is sort of the whole idea behind fingerpicking! It’s a great way to practise, while playing through a great song.

3. Counting / Rhythm – “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by Stevie Ray Vaughan

 

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The most important thing in playing a musical instrument is rhythm. Whether you’re playing on your own, or as part of a group, you need to be able to keep time. Some patterns are easy of course, just strumming along in 4/4 time, but if you really want to challenge yourself and start to unlock your “inner metronome”, you’ll need to try out some more complex patterns. Try to test yourself – whenever you play, keep your foot tapping along to the beat of whatever it is you’re playing. The opening riff in “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” is a good challenge for this – it combines a relatively simple melodic riff with a syncopated sort of rhythm. It contains various notes and rests that land both on and off the beat, making for an unexpected feel. With a stronger sense of rhythm and larger vocabulary of patterns, you will find it much easier both locking into a groove as well as coming up with your own ideas.

4. Power Chords – “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones

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A power chord is just two notes of a chord played at the same time; the root, and the fifth. Doing so means that you don’t need to worry whether or not the chord in question is supposed to be major or minor, as both would have the same root and fifth anyways. You can incorporate the octave as well, as it doesn’t make things much more difficult, and adds a nice upper layer to the sound of the chord.
More often than not, you will find yourself playing power chords with their root note on either the low E string or the A string. Thanks to the way the guitar neck works, this means that the shape of these chords will never change.
For example, plant your first finger on the low E string of the fifth fret. Now plant your third finger on the A string of the seventh fret. You are now holding an “A5”  power chord! Want to add the octave? Just throw your pinky down on the D string of the seventh fret, below your third finger.
But what good would knowing how to play power chords be without knowing how to play some raw, straight to the point punk tunes to go with them? While they may not have invented them, the Ramones’ sound encapsulates everything that the “power” chord exists for; straight to the point, loud, and fast!
The song “Blitzkrieg Bop” will get you used to holding the power chord shape, as well as moving up and down the neck to play each chord. You’ll also have to jump between the E and A as your root note, which is important to become accustomed to.
In addition to this fretting hand technique, the strumming you’ll be doing with your other hand is just as important. You’re only playing two or three strings here, so of course you don’t want to hear the others. At first it will be easier to just limit yourself, and play only the strings you are holding in the chord. In this way, however, you’ll soon realize that you can’t quite capture the same power and energy that Johnny Ramone did. So how do you fix that?
Muting. Being able to mute strings properly with your left hand is what will bring your power chord strumming to the next level. It’s sort of hard to put it into text, but whilst you hold down that A5 power chord, try to also lightly lie your first finger down across all the strings below (like you’re playing a barre chord). Doing this means that it doesn’t matter how many strings you hit – the only ones that will ring are the ones you want to hear. THIS is how you get the “power” out of your power chords – pure aggression with the strumming hand, and precision / articulation with the fretting hand.

5. Soloing – “Californication” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Playing a guitar solo is a culmination of things. It’s not just “playing a bunch of notes really fast”, but should be thought of moreso as the guitarists’ turn to takeover for the vocalist, and front the song. With that in mind, the way in which you approach your solo should be derived directly from the vibe of the song you are playing to. This means that you need to take everything into consideration – the chords used, the melody, the rhythm, the feel… the perfect solo is one that touches on all of these things, while throwing in bits of technique for flavour.
One way you can start to understand how to play a strong solo is to listen to guitar solos that you find to be memorable, and figure out what it is that they’ve done. Listen to the section as a whole, and try to emulate it. A good starter would be the solo in “Californication”. It isn’t blazing fast, but it is subtle and captures the essence of the song very well. You’ll pick up on a few techniques here and there throughout the solo, and start to be able to hear the difference between, for example, a bend and a slide, or a hammer-on and a picked note. It is also done in a clean tone, which means you are forced to nail the performance when you play it. Extremely over-driven amps have a tendency of “covering up” mistakes made when playing, so practising with a clean tone is a good way to truly hear what you’re putting into the guitar.

Is Your Nut Driving You Nuts?

One of the most commonly overlooked problems in a guitar set-up also happens to be one of the most important pieces to get right! As one of only two resting points for each string on your guitar, the nut carries quite a burden. If you find it way too hard to hold down an F chord, if your strings buzz when played open, if your strings “catch” while tuning, or your guitar’s intonation just doesn’t seem right, your nut may be at fault. Sometimes it’s too far gone, and in many cases the best course of action is to have a new nut custom-made to fit your guitar. That said, steps can be made to correct problems with an existing nut to help make the guitar play the way it should. Below is a guide to doing just that!

Before you begin, you’re going to need to invest in some tools. For our purposes here, you’ll need the following:

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– Nut Files (properly sized)
– Sand Paper
– Super Glue
– Second Nut (a piece of one will do)
– Masking Tape

The most important thing to do before you start any sort of nut work is to ensure that the guitar neck is straight as an arrow, with the strings tuned to pitch. If you cut deeper slots into a nut while the neck is bowed, and straighten the neck after, then your strings might end up sitting too close to the frets and cause fret buzz. On the flip-side, if your neck is back-bowed and you raise the slots, the strings may sit too high once the neck is correctly adjusted. Always start with a blank canvas by setting the neck completely straight!

Once your neck is set, you can assess the nut. With your right index finger, push down the low “E” string in the third fret. If the string is resting on the first fret at this point, either the slots are already cut perfectly or they’re too deep. If it isn’t resting on the fret, tap the string with your left index finger. If there is distance, and the string moves up and down, then there is room to file the nut slot down.

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Here is where it is important to use nut files that are sized appropriately for the gauge of string you wish to use. If you’re using a set of #10-46, then for this low “E” string slot you will want a file that will cut a slot to accommodate a string that is .046″ in diameter. That said, you do not want the slot to be the same size as the string – you want the string to be able to move freely and not be gripped like it’s in a vise. A great way to do this would be to use a file that is a couple thou larger than the string size you are going to use. Alternatively, using a .046″ sized file for the low “E” and applying a slight “side-to-side” technique as you file will help achieve the right width.

To begin the process, remove the E string from its slot. File gently, forward and backwards once or twice. Put the string back in, and check its height again using the “third fret – first fret” method described above. This will give you an idea of how much distance remains for you to file. Ideally, you will want there to be almost no movement in the string when you push it down to the first fret. Continue the filing process until this distance is achieved, then repeat for each string.   *NOTE* – Try not to loosen the string when removing it from the slot. If you must, be sure to tune it to pitch when testing its height.

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Now lets step back a bit and assume after your first assessment that the nut slots were actually sitting too low. In this case, you’ll want to fill them, and then re-cut them to the right height. To do this, loosen the strings and take them all out of their nut slots. A “string spreader” might be handy to keep them out of the way, but not necessary.

Using the sand paper and the extra nut, shave it down to create some “dust” out of its material. A good idea would be to place a sheet of paper underneath where you are sanding so you can easily see the nut material.

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Next, run a piece of masking tape along the finger board right beside the nut, and another on the headstock beside the nut. This will be to protect from glue spillage during the next step. Many guitar nuts are not firmly secured to the neck here, so an alternative would be to just take the nut off altogether for this step.

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Take a pinch of some dust that you prepared, and carefully place it into each of the nut slots. Then, add a small dab of super glue to each. A glue that comes in a container with a long, narrow spout at the end like that of a syringe would be best. This concoction will harden, and function virtually the same as the nut itself. The glue shouldn’t take too long to set, and when it does, you’ll just need to repeat the filing process that I talked about earlier.

That’s it! Once you’re done, all that’s left is to set your guitar up how you like it, and play.

When Should I Change my Guitar Strings?

Picture this if you will: you’re playing on stage with your favourite guitar, and it’s almost your turn to steal the limelight. Thousands of screaming fans brace themselves for the part of the song they know all too well… your solo!

You rip into the first bend, and *SNAP* – your heart sinks as your once-tight B string is now a wet noodle flopping around between your fingers. You stumble through the rest of the song, frantically improvising parts that don’t require the use of that string, and when it’s all over you think to yourself “Well, I guess it’s time to put a new string on now.”
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The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” simply does not apply to guitar strings. The notion that you should only change a string if it breaks is completely backwards; even if you’re not planning on playing for thousands of screaming fans any time soon. The reality of guitar strings is that regardless of how fresh or old they are, there is always a chance that they can break. Whether you’re a seasoned pro with a guitar tech changing your strings every night, or a basement player with strings that haven’t been changed in months, a break can happen. With regular re-strings and proper instrument maintenance, however, it is far less likely that a break will occur, and you’ll be more likely to make it through a song with all six strings intact.

Why?

Strings can break for many reasons, and one of the biggest culprits for breakage is corrosion. Dead skin, sweat, and dirt build up on the strings over time, causing their metals to break down. The longer you leave the string on, the less stable it is going to become and make it more likely to break. Even if you aren’t regularly playing the instrument, the moisture content in the air will have a similar effect on the strings – it just might take a little longer than if you were playing it.

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That said, you can’t always blame the string when one breaks. If you’re consistently having issues with strings breaking, it might be a good idea to take a look at the bridge saddles, nut slots, or machine heads. Something could be sharp, or perhaps catching the string in a way it shouldn’t be.

Alright, enough about breaking strings! Preventing a string break is not the only reason for a change. In fact, it’s more of a byproduct of the real reasons.

Just as corrosion can lead to an eventual break, it also causes the string to not function to its full potential. A string covered in grime won’t resonate properly, and will sound dull and lifeless. On top of that, an older string has been under a lot of tension for a longer period of time. This means that it has been stretched more, which can result in more difficulty staying in tune. Changing your strings before they get to the point where they are coated in grime, corroded, or stretched to oblivion will keep them sounding fresh, lustrous, in tune, as well as help prevent them from breaking mid-song.

So then, the question becomes how do you know when a string is passed its expiry and it is time to change it?

For the more experienced player, it turns into a preference thing. Some players like the snappy sound of a brand new string, while others prefer the sound of strings that have been “broken in” a bit; maybe a couple days’ or even a week’s worth of play on them. Obviously not everyone has the luxury of being able to change strings every few days, so as a general rule of thumb I’d recommend aiming for a time period between two weeks and one month. Before you’re able to decide what it is you really like, there are a few things you can consider.

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1. Look and feel

If your strings are looking dull, or even black – and feel rough or sticky, it’s probably time to swap them out.

2. Sound and tuning

If your strings don’t sound as clear or present as you remember, and you’re having difficulty keeping your guitar in tune, you may want to change your strings.

3. Playing live or recording soon?

If you’ve got a date set, and can’t remember when you changed your strings last, then it’s a safe bet to change them up. Make sure you swap them out at least a few hours before you plan on hitting the stage though – brand new strings have a tendency of falling out of tune as they aren’t yet used to being brought to tension.

4. Budget

Of course, everything costs money. The best thing you can do is learn to properly re-string by yourself, and use a quality brand string. Make sure you use the same gauge strings as you had on your guitar previously, as changing sizes may throw your guitar’s neck out of whack… meaning you’ll need to spend more time or money to get it set-it up right!

That’s it, in a nutshell! As long as you keep these things in mind, you should be able to maintain a great sounding and feeling instrument that will really make you want to pick it up and play!

Guitar Care 101

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is a phrase that rings true for pretty much everything – guitar maintenance included! Most guitar owners understand that string changes, light polishing and getting a set-up when necessary are good ways to keep their instrument in good condition, but often over-look what may seem to be more trivial problems. The thing is, these smaller problems can often turn into big ones down the road. The good news is that if addressed properly, you can easily prevent these problems without a whole lot of technical know-how. Here’s my list of things to watch out for:
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1. Loose Volume / Tone Knob

When the nut that holds a potentiometer (pot) in place is tight enough to hold it still, turning the knob simply rotates the pot’s shaft, giving you that volume or tone change. Here’s something I’ve heard a number of times: “well, my knob was just loose at first but now my guitar doesn’t even work!” So, what happens when it feels loose? The problem is that when you turn a knob that is not securely fastened to the body, chances are you’re turning the whole pot inside the guitar. Doing this will also rotate all the wires connected to the pot, potentially ripping them off or causing them to short somewhere.
So if you don’t want to rip wires off, (which you shouldn’t), the answer would of course be to tighten the bolt that holds the pot in place. Herein lies the next problem: once the bolt is tight enough to grip the pot (but not quite tight enough to hold it in place), just turning the bolt can also turn the whole potentiometer. The trick is to make sure you hold the pot’s shaft still while turning the bolt. I like to use a flat-head screw-driver in the slot to keep it still while tightening.
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2. Loose Output Jack

There’s a couple different ways your output jack can be loose. One: your cable just seems to fall out, and two: the whole jack wiggles around. In the first case, more often than not you can fix this by adjusting the jack’s contact on the inside.
Take the jack assembly off, and plug your cable in. You can see where the cable’s connector makes contact – that long curved metal thingy. This is the piece that holds the cable in, so by removing your cable and gently pushing this piece inward, you should be able to create a better “lock” for your cable.
If your problem is that the whole output jack is loose, you have a similar problem to what I mentioned about the loose volume / tone knobs. You don’t want to just turn the bolt, you need to be able to hold the whole jack still while turning or risk ripping off more wires. The best way to do this would be to take the jack out, and literally hold it with your hand while tightening the bolt.

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3. Loose Strap Buttons

It’s not uncommon for a strap button to spin in its place. While this might not seem like a big deal, if you aren’t using strap locks this makes it easier for your strap to slip off. Also, enough movement can gradually wear the hole that the button’s screw is set into, and eventually just not be secure anymore.
Typically, the cause for a loose strap button is that the screw just isn’t biting into enough wood. The simplest solution to this is to, well, add some wood. Toothpicks are great for this – simply remove the strap button, break up a couple toothpicks and put them in the screw-hole. You’ll notice a much more snug fit immediately.

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4. Sympathetic Buzzing Sounds

Ahh the dreaded buzz. Most often, an annoying buzz is caused by a poor set-up or messed up frets. Occasionally, a different sort of buzz can appear from an entirely different source. These are tricky to pinpoint, but keeping with the theme of fixing loose components, sometimes you can erase these pesky sounds by tightening everything!
When you pluck a string, more than just that string vibrates. Everything on the guitar vibrates, so if there’s a particular component that’s loose, there’s a chance it will rattle. Confirm that every screw and bolt on the guitar is snug, from the machine heads to the saddles, and you may just save yourself a repair bill just by turning some screws!

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5. Grime-encrusted Fretboard

Okay, so here’s the odd one out. No need to tighten anything here! Cleaning your fretboard may seem obvious, but doing it effectively isn’t always carried out. One of the big problems with keeping dirt on your fretboard (among others) is that things can build up underneath your frets, and eventually end up raising them. The last thing you want to do is bring your guitar for a fret level because too much dirt built up underneath the frets.
To really clean out your fretboard, I recommend spraying the board with a few spritzes of a bio-degradable cleaning solution (such as Simple Green), and then scrubbing with a toothbrush. Get in nice and close to the frets with the brush to try and remove any build-up that may already be present. As soon as you’re done scrubbing, wipe off the solution, and apply your lemon oil. You don’t need to do this every time you change strings, it really depends how much you play and.. how dirty your hands are. Which leads me to another point: wash your hands before you play! Your future self (and your guitar) will thank you.

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Debunking Ten Common Guitar Myths

Separating fact from fiction can be difficult regardless of what the subject matter is. If you believe something, then you believe it! It’s as simple as that. You may have even forgotten what source you’ve heard something from, but as long as it seems “right” in your head, it’s natural that you’ll see it as truth until proven otherwise. Misinformation and old wive’s tales are constantly being passed around, and can easily get muddled up with whats true.
Chances are you’ve read or been involved in a debate or discussion about the guitar where two sides believe entirely different things. Or, maybe you’ve just heard something that seems a little hard to believe. Below I’ll list a few common myths surrounding the guitar, and my reasons for debunking them. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of them in the comments!

1. It’s bad for your guitar to remove all the strings at the same time when re-stringing your guitar.

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When you take your guitar to a tech or a luthier for any sort of fret work, they’re most likely going to be taking all the strings off to grant themselves proper access to the frets. As long as the string tension is reduced gradually, then there’s nothing wrong with taking all the strings off at the same time. What you want to avoid is cutting the strings while they are still tuned to pitch – the drastic drop in tension could potentially cause harm. Also, if your guitar has a floating bridge, you will actually save yourself time by re-stringing it one string at a time. Maintaining as much tension as you can during the re-string process will make it easier to balance the spring tension afterwards, if you even need to.

2. “My guitar has a bad hum, and when I touch the strings / bridge / metal knobs it goes away. It must not be grounded properly!”

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I hear this one all the time. Naturally, one would assume that your body is acting as a ground, soaking up that hum when touching these components. The thing that seems to be forgotten is that your body naturally creates electricity. If you had an improper or reversed ground, touching anything metal on the guitar would actually just cause your body’s electrical noise to be amplified, thus increasing that nauseating buzz sound. If the hum gets quieter when touching metal guitar components, it’s actually a sign that your guitar is grounded properly.
Pretty much every guitar has some sort of 60 cycle hum that is more evident at higher volumes. If you find a guitar that seems to have a worse buzz than another one, it is likely due to a problem with shielding rather than grounding. It is actually amplifying electrical noises from outside the guitar’s circuit. There are things you can do to help with shielding problems such as using higher quality cabling, better pots and wiring, or even rimming the electronics compartment with tin foil – but at the end of the day, you will most likely never quite get rid of that noise entirely. It just comes with the territory!

3. Playing an un-grounded guitar is extremely dangerous!

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Well, maybe for your ears it is. The amount of amperage an electric guitar produces simply isn’t enough to be lethal, or even cause any harm. What you need to be wary of is your amplifier, and the source you are plugging it into. People have literally died in the past from amplifiers that were not properly grounded. So if you notice a shock when you touch your strings, or when your lips touch the microphone while playing, it might be a good idea to get your amp and wall outlet checked out!

4. “Your tune-o-matic bridge is on backwards.”

bridges

This is a common issue you’ll find players debating. When you look at a tune-o-matic bridge, the intonation adjustment screws are on one side only. The argument is always over which side these should be facing for the bridge to be on “properly”. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. There is no universal right or wrong direction for the bridge to be on; it should be placed in the direction that makes the most sense for the particular guitar it is on. For example, if your bridge happens to be located really close to your bridge pickup, and you like your bridge pickup to sit rather close to the strings, it might be in your best interest to have the intonation adjustment screws facing the tail of the guitar. That way it’s not impossible to intonate.
Many tune-o-matic bridges feature 3 saddles facing one direction, while the other three face the opposite way. Others feature saddles all angled the same direction. Here’s a quick doodle I did to help picture a saddle from the side:

saddle

Consider this: depending on the break-angle of the string, it may be best to have the intonation screws facing the pickups as shown here. In rare occasions the break is so great that the string makes contact with the screw, which is of course not something you want.
Also in the diagram, you can see that the string rests on the saddle at its leftmost side. This means you have more room to shorten the string than you do to lengthen it. If your E string’s saddle is facing this way, for example, and it consistently intonates too sharp (even with the saddle pushed all the way to the right), consider flipping the bridge or saddles. With the saddles  facing the opposite direction, this will give you almost an entire saddle’s length extra to lengthen the string!

5. A Nitro-finished electric guitar sounds better than a poly-finished one.

finishing

To me, this is just a similar argument to “a les paul sounds better than a strat”. It’s entirely subjective. Is there even a difference? I don’t know, I’ve never A-B’d two identical guitars that had the same weight, wood, shape, and electronics, but one had a nitro finish and the other had poly. Some would argue that poly “chokes” the resonance of the guitar more than nitro does, therefore making for an inferior sounding instrument. I can see such an argument holding more water for an acoustic guitar – these are entirely dependent upon their wood and the way it vibrates. That said, I’m not really convinced that a slightly thicker compound would ruin the tone of an electric guitar. Sure, the finish might look, feel, and age differently, but I’m not going to squander the opportunity to try out a potentially great sounding guitar just because of its finish. If I play a guitar and like how it sounds, then it sounds good. That’s my criteria, anyway…

6. You need to have natural talent to become a “guitar god”.

babyguit

I find that this would be almost insulting to every “guitar god” out there. It’s as if to say they inherited their talent rather than worked for it, when in fact these musicians worked very hard to be able to do what they do. It’s true that if you’re brought up on music, then maybe you’ll have a bit of a knack for it when you decide to start playing an instrument – but it still requires a lot of dedication and practise. If anything, it could be argued that you need good people/business skills coupled with skill and ability to become a “guitar god”. There are and have been TONS of incredible guitar players out there that we’ve probably never heard of because in the music business, there’s more to it than just being “really really good”.

7. You need to practise for several hours each day to become a good player.

practise

To this I say: quality over quantity. You could practise for 8 hours a day and go nowhere if you aren’t being productive about it. Without proper instruction, research, and practise, you can easily end up developing bad habits that hinder your overall playing, or just spend too much time on something that isn’t helping you. Thirty minutes to an hour of focused, co-ordinated practise is more than enough to keep you on track and on your way to becoming a good guitarist. Private lessons are also a great way to help you establish a good practise routine.

8.  You need a 100 watt stack amp if you want to play in a loud rock band.

marshall stacks

Unless you plan on playing in a sold out arena or stadium some time soon, then you really don’t need that much power. Keep this in mind: twice as much wattage is not synonymous with twice as much volume. It actually takes ten times the output power to effectively double the human ear’s perception of volume. In other words, if you were thinking of getting an amp that could be twice as loud as a 50 watt, you would need a 500 watt – not a 100.
If the typical venue you’ll be playing in is a bar, or a small theater, you probably won’t be able to set your 100 watt amp’s level too high before your bandmates (and the sound technician) are screaming at you to turn down. The problem is, in order to get the best tone out of your amp, normally you need to run it pretty hot. Using a 30 – 50 watt amp is more than enough to allow you to play at a good level and achieve the tone you want for a decent sized venue. Not to mention you can easily get mic’d up and run through the sound board for a better control over the mix!

9. The fatter the string, the better the tone.

tt15d

Once again, we have a subjective statement. To me, this phrase should be “the fatter the string, the different the tone”. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Zak Wylde have been known for creating unbelievable tones using their super thick gauge strings. That’s a fact; these are two incredible, individual guitar tones that are “owned” by these two artists. That said, there are other guitarists who have created super heavy sounds using thin strings. James Hetfield? .009. Eddie Van Halen? Also .009. Jimmy Page? He prefers .008! My advice: use what feels and sounds good to you.

10. If it’s not “brand name”, it’s crap.

brand

I think this is society’s fault. We feel this way about everything… Going for a run? Get a pair of Nike’s! Want to go for a coffee? Only if it’s Starbucks! Name two good guitar brands… I bet you just thought of two words that rhyme with “blender” and “bibson”.
That’s not to say that these brands aren’t good – many of the guitars they make are! They’re the big guys who have stood the test of time, and they’ve done so for a reason. Partially because they started off with a great product, and partially because of advertising and word of mouth. What you need to remember though is that just because it has the name on the headstock, that doesn’t make it good. These brands make various quality levels of instruments, and while their higher-end stuff might be fantastic, their lower end guitars really aren’t any different from others at the same price-point. You could take two of the exact same model guitar priced at, say, $700 and one could be incredible, and the other a dud – especially when coming from such large, mass production facilities.
The best coffee I’ve ever had is from a small, family-run restaurant near my hometown. Not a Starbucks. In my opinion, the best guitar you’ll ever play could be one built by a local luthier specifically for you. That doesn’t sound like crap to me!

 

Tips on Tones: Issue #22

If you’ve ever seen Tenacious D’s movie, “The Pick of Destiny”, then you know the great lengths a struggling musician would go to if it meant that their efforts would make them “the best in the world”. In the movie, the protagonists discover one commonality between every guitar hero who ever lived – they all used the same pick! Feeling that this pick is the secret to super-stardom, the two decide they need to have it. Thus begins an epic tale of two men who must battle through Rock and Roll Hall of Fame security, car chases in their friend’s pizza delivery car, and a crazed Tim Robbins wielding a tiny shiv. In the end, the heroes must face off against the devil himself as it is discovered that the pick is actually carved from his long lost tooth. In other words, it’s basically  just the telling of any other day as the average musician. The struggle is real.

OK, maybe not that real. The idea that one guitar pick (Satan’s tooth or not) can turn you into a guitar god might be downright ludicrous, but the thought that your playing and tone can be improved by using a different pick isn’t so far-fetched.
Picture this if you will: you’re playing your guitar, and you’re unhappy with your tone. It’s not full enough! We’ve all been there, and chances are one of the first things to pop into your head was “Gee, I need a new guitar. Or an amp… or both”.

Now, new stuff is fun and all, but personally I’m all for not spending thousands of dollars (or fighting Satan) if I can fix a tonal problem for virtually zero cost. One such way would be by experimenting with different picks.

picksss

The three big factors you need to pay attention to when looking for the right pick to use would be it’s thickness, shape, and material. Using a super thin pick, for example, means that when you play,  a lot of force is spent on the bending of the pick instead of the plucking of the string. Consequently, you get a much quieter and thinner tone. While the vibrational note of the string may be quieter, the percussive “picking” sound against the string is actually amplified as the thin pick slaps-back. For this reason, a thinner pick can be used if you’re looking for a softer, rhythmic strumming sound, almost as though a washboard is playing in the background.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more articulate, loud and full sound, you might want to look into trying out a thicker pick. Any style of playing where you need to be able to move quickly and freely between strings, tremolo pick, or hit loud and nasty chords would work better with a substantial pick in your hand. Just try some fast tremolo picking with a super floppy pick – it won’t really work. You need the pick to be able to glide through the strings, not get caught and flop around.

bigsty
In addition to thickness, what the pick is made out of can impact your playing in a couple of ways. First, the attack and resonance of a string can be slightly altered by the pick’s material. For example, if you took a metal coin and plucked your strings, then did the same with a pick of the same thickness, you will notice a difference in sound. Picks have been made of all kinds of things.. plastic, metal, tortoise shell, even stone. That said, some are more common than others, and in stores, the three most likely you will see would be plastic, nylon, and “tortex”. You’ll really just have to experiment with different materials to find what you like. A thick plastic, rounded pick can work well for playing that requires a heavy attack and smooth articulation, while nylon might work well if you prefer a thinner pick. Personally, I’m a fan of “tortex”.
torto
Back in the day, the material heralded as the absolute best for guitar picks was real tortoise-shell. I’ve never used one, but have heard time and again that the feel and sound from these is second-to-none. “Tortex” is a plastic material crafted by Dunlop to resemble real tortoise shell. While I can’t say from experience whether or not they successfully achieved this, I can say they successfully made my pick of choice! I think it’s something about their look and feel. Shiny plastic just looks and feels cheap to me, while these have some sort of grittiness to them that not only feels nice, but makes them easier to grip. As a matter of fact, I still have one of my first ones. Check it out! (on the right, of course.)

pickss

All in all, once again it’s just about experimentation. Using one guitar, try switching between a few different picks. You’ll be amazed at the difference in tone and feel.

Happy playing!

Ten Cheap and Handy Tools for Guitar Work

It’s easy to get yourself thinking “I can’t do _____ because I don’t have the right tools”. In some cases, this is a cold hard fact. While your own two hands may be the best tools on the market, they can’t melt solder, and they can’t chop wood… unless you’re Bruce Lee. That said, the tools necessary to do a job are often not hard to acquire, and may be closer to home than you imagined.
When it comes to setting up or making minor repairs on a guitar, there are some tools you absolutely need to have to do the work. Hex wrenches, allen keys, and screwdrivers are just a few examples. The following is not necessarily a list of fundamentals like these, but more a list of easily attainable items that will help make your job easier and more efficient for various tasks.

1. Kitchen Magnet Bar

kitchbar

While this is of course great for holding your knives and other kitchen tools, many of the tools you will be using on your guitar are made of metal and can be kept organized by putting one of these on your wall. Having metal tools strewn about your work bench is a recipe for making scratches and dents on your instrument, and it’s simply easier to find what you’re looking for when they’re hanging right in front of you. If you plan on doing work for others, keeping a tidy work space is a major selling point for your customers. If I went to drop my guitar off with someone and saw a work desk covered in tools, glue and sawdust, I’d be headed out the door! As a sidenote: make sure the bar is installed a safe distance away from where you’re doing the work. That is, not directly above the guitar… falling tools are even worse than ones on the workbench!

2. Tape

gwb11a

You can use different types of tape for many different things when it comes to guitar work. The best use would of course be for protecting the guitar when you are doing other work to it. We’ve all seen the green tape on the fretboard for when you’re doing fretwork – but that’s not the only use! Electrical tape is a must if you plan on doing any soldering. If you have any bare wires, or want to tie wires together to keep things neat on the inside, a small piece of this is the best way to go. You can use the same green tape you would for fretwork for other protective purposes, too, like if you have to do any sort of drilling into the body (bigsby installations, strap button installations, etc). On top of potential damage from hard tools, glue spillage is something that can cause you more grief in the future, and is best prevented by protecting the area you are gluing with some tape. For example, if you’re gluing in a nut or filling nut slots, lay a couple strips of tape on either side to collect spillage.
Another use would be a quick-fix for loose knobs. If a knob isn’t quite grasping the pot-tabs well enough, you can wrap a small piece of tape around the tab to “increase” it’s size, and allow for a more snug fit.

3. Black Sharpie

It may not be a professional re-touching job, but you wouldn’t believe how often a black magic marker can be used to cover up blemishes. If you’ve got a dark colored guitar with a small paint chip, some black binding with a ding in it, or a dark fingerboard with an imperfection, a simple dab with a black sharpie can virtually make the problem disappear in many cases.
In addition, if not for covering up damage, a marker comes in handy for when it comes time to level and dress frets. Drawing a line down each fret will give you a good reference point of which frets are actually “getting hit” when doing your fret level, and will also be a good indicator of the “crown” on your fret after you start using a crowning file. You can check out an article for more on that here.

4. Pencil / Nut Sauce

nutsauce

If you find that your guitar is falling out of tune easy, or strings keep “catching” when you tune them, it could be that you need to add a little lubrication to the nut slots. An age-old trick would be filling in the nut slots with a bit of graphite, most easily accomplished by drawing into them with a pencil. It seems silly, but it works! There are also products that exist that work in the same way. such as “Big Bends Nut Sauce”, which works just as well, if not better than the graphite.

5. Glue

glue

OK, so typically you shouldn’t need glue for your average guitar set-up, and it’s sort of the last thing you want to use when it comes to “minor” repairs – but sometimes it’s necessary. Two types of glue would suffice for general work: a white wood glue, and a super glue. Sometimes frets can lift a bit from use (especially at their ends), and buildup getting underneath them. Before jumping to filing and fret leveling, you’ll want to make sure they are seated properly. An application of super glue with some downward pressure (clamps would be best if you have them) would help seat them, and keep them in place for when it comes time to take the file to it. Another common piece to come loose is the nut. Some would argue that if the nut on your guitar is loose, to just leave it – but I prefer to have it at least secure enough that it will stay on its own without string tension. Not so much glue that you need to saw it out in the future, just a dab; enough that a gentle tap while knock it out. While we’re on the topic of using glue for the nut, it will also come in handy should you find the need to fill in your nut slots. If a string sits too low and causes fret buzz, the simple solution is to use a concoction of super glue and baking soda to fill in the slot, and re-file so the string sits at a good height. An alternative to baking soda would be some tiny shavings of the nut material your nut is made of.

6. Razor Blade

blade

This can be your fingerboard “deep cleansing” tool. You can lemon oil your guitar neck as much as you want – the fact is, sometimes dirt and grime gets stuck in the wood fibers and right close to the frets. In order to get it out, you’d need to get rid of some of the wood that’s holding it in. Here you would use the razor blade as a scraper – stand it up so it’s 90 degrees to the fingerboard, and scrape along the wood-grain (from fret to fret.) You can use sand paper to do the same thing, I just prefer to scrape, and easily get close to each fret with the blade. When finished, some steel wool will help polish up the board, and you can then apply your lemon oil.

7. Sandpaper

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As mentioned before, this can be used for cleaning tough spots on the fingerboard like the razor blade. More often, however, sandpaper will be your best friend for everything that involves fretwork. Leveling? Sandpaper stuck to leveling-beam or straight edge. Polishing? Different grits of sand paper, starting from a low grit and working your way to a higher one.
Aside from this, sandpaper makes for a good shimming material if you need it. Save a few strips of your used sandpaper – that way, if you come across a bolt-on neck that needs to be raised at the heel, you can use however much sandpaper you need to act as a shim for the neck.

8. Toothpicks

toothpicks

Whenever you have a loose screw, toothpicks can help tighten their bite. Simply remove the screw, and put the toothpick (or part of it) in its hole. Tighten up the screw again, and the toothpick will act as a wood filler, making the screw bite securely into the guitar again.

9. Flat Shoelace

vgw12f

This is a great leverage tool. Sometimes volume and tone knobs are just on too tight to be lifted by hand, and many people would jump straight for a flat-head screwdriver to pry them off. This doesn’t always end so well – plastics can crack or break, and it’s easy to slip and potentially damage the guitar. A flat shoelace slipped underneath the knob will apply even force to its underside, and it’s a soft material so you can pretty much guarantee you won’t end up breaking the knob!

10. Water and Cloth

water

If you’ve got a guitar that is in desperate need of a wipe-down, before jumping to the WD-40 and chemical cleaners, first try a dry cloth, then a damp cloth. You don’t want to give your guitar a bath here, so be sure to dry any wet spots as you go. In many cases you’ll find this will be enough to get the cleaning job done, and you can add a little guitar polish to shine it back up. As an added note: even before you go at it with the cloth, you may want to blow or use some compressed air to get rid of any particles that may be on the guitar. Wiping the cloth around on it without doing this may drag leftover particles and leave behind nasty surface scratches.

 

 

Tips on Tones: Issue #21 – Machine Heads

Machine heads, tuning pegs, keys, and tuners. Whatever you call them, they’re all there for the same reason: to keep your strings tight and your guitar sounding pretty. Most any tuner can accomplish these two tasks, but just like any other component on the guitar, not all pegs are created equal!
guitars

At some point in your guitar-playing life, you’ll likely experience a faulty tuning key and need to replace it. Maybe your current tuners aren’t accurate enough, or seem to weigh your headstock down? Or maybe you just like the look of Kluson “green keys” instead of your Gotoh’s. Whatever the reason, it’s important to have at least somewhat of an understanding of what these things are and how they work before you spend money to replace them.

The first thing you’ll need to look at, of course, are the technical specs of the tuners you currently have to make sure you don’t cause yourself too much grief installing the next ones. The best case scenario would be you finding a set that will slip seamlessly into the peg-holes of your guitar without any modification. The next best would be the required installation of “adapter bushings”, which are basically just different thicknesses of metal used to, well, adapt to variations in diameter.
bush
The last thing you want to end up doing is widen the peg holes. Sure, it might work – but if you’re doing this to a valuable guitar, you don’t want to be doing anything that is changing it from its original condition.
Most machine heads will show in-depth measurements of all of their components so there are no surprises when it comes time to install. A good example would be here on Stewmac’s site that shows basically everything you’d need to know as far as sizing goes.

Aside from the physical-size measurements of the peg, one of the first specs you’ll always see is a ratratioio such as “14:1”. This has nothing to do with the installation of the part, but rather its functionality. Now, let’s not forget the ultimate reason these things exist… to keep your guitar in tune! If you were having trouble tuning, or your tuner seemed to constantly “skip” over notes or pitches, this ratio is something you want to pay close attention to. Essentially, the higher the number, the finer the tuning you are able to do. The first number is the number of full turns it takes you to turn the peg before the inner gear completes one full cycle. Therefore, if you had something that was 1:1, you can imagine how hard it would be to zero in on any given pitch. If you feel like you want something that’s a little more precise, try to find a higher ratio tuning key. I’d recommend something 16:1 or higher.

A further method of helping keep your guitar in tune would be to invest in a set of locking tuners. They basically do what the name suggests – lock your strings in place. They help prevent string slippage without the string having to be wrapped around the peg-shaft “X” number of times, which makes for an easier re-string. At the end of the day, a string is going to go out of tune because something moved somewhere. Locking things in place is a good way of preventing that!
lockIf you’ve ever held a really old guitar in your hands and tried to tune it, you may have seen plastic tuning pegs literally fall apart in your hands. Over time, and from lots of use, the plastic can come loose from the metal. At first this can cause tuning problems as it doesn’t properly grasp the mechanism when you turn it, and later, the piece can crumble and break. You can find high-quality keys made with plastic that will last longer than others, but if you really want something that will stand the test of time, metal is your best bet.
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The last thing you might want to ask yourself when considering a new set of pegs is “will this change affect my tone?” You’ll get a different answer for this depending on who you ask.
First of all, of course a better set of pegs will be less prone to rattle, fall out of tune or break which are all things that I think we can all agree makes your guitar sound better. The only other thing that can really be argued for having an affect on your tone here would be the weight of the pegs. Different players and luthiers could argue for days over which is better – a heavier headstock or lighter. Some would say the heaviness would take away from the vibration of the neck, while others would say it adds sustain. Some would argue that it really doesn’t matter. One thing that we can be sure of, however, is that a heavier/lighter set of pegs might change how you play. A guitar that is heavier or lighter at the headstock will have a different balance, and will feel different in your hands and around your shoulders. Probably not by much, but it doesn’t take much for a guitar to feel different, and consequently make you play different. My advice would be to go with a set that doesn’t change the balance of your guitar too much.
Remember, the majority of your tone comes from your fingertips, which comes from you, which comes from your current state of mind, which can be affected by how comfortable or uncomfortable an instrument is in your hands!

Tips on Tones: Issue #20 – Inspiration – Part One

There is a dangerous addiction among guitar players that can ultimately lead to a loss of memory. More specifically, it can make us forget the reason we all wanted to get involved with music and pick up a guitar in the first place. The ironic thing is, this addiction comes from the inherent desire to progress and get better at playing the instrument. So what’s so wrong about that? While practicing techniques and playing is a necessity, it is important to remember what your role is and how you can lend yourself to your music.

Allow me to expsolotoonlain. Many guitar players (myself included) go through a phase where the most important thing is to be able to play faster, to learn that next impressive lick , and to write “songs” that are nothing but one giant guitar solo. While these may be innocent at first, and do have a positive affect on your playing,  focusing entirely on these can take you down a path that leads further from musicality and more towards “competition”.

It is the competitive mindset that makes us forget why we picked up a guitar in the first place. We started to play simply because we were inspired to. For example, your first thoughts when hearing “Comfortably Numb” blast through your speakers probably wasn’t “cool, but not as good as so and so”. Nor would it have been “I can play better than that.” It may have been more like “How do they do that? I want to be able to do that!”
THAT is how it should be, and should remain. It is the combined senses of mystery, the evocation of emotion, and the admiration of skill that truly inspire, and it is important to use a healthy dose of all three of these to inspire others like you were.

Sense of Mystery

To someone who has never played an instrument before, or even to someone who is just beginning to listen to music, everything is a mystery. For example, let’s pretend you had a beginner and a trained musician in the same room, and you played them a C,G,D strumming pattern. If you asked them to tell you what they just heard, you’d get two very different answers. From the beginner, you might get something like”well, that’s a cool sounding song played on a guitar!”
The experienced ear, however, might say something to the effect of “that’s a typical C,G,D pattern played in the first position at a moderate tempo. Also… please change your smysttrings and trim your nails.”
The longer you play and the more you learn, the more “mystery” of the guitar and music you lose. This is a good thing from a learner’s perspective of course – the more you know the more you can play. However, it is important to try and retain some aspect of that mystery in order to keep things interesting and set yourself apart.

The feeling you get when you’re playing through a song that you’ve successfully learned note-for-note is much different than the feeling you get when you first listen to it. When you’re learning a song, in many cases you need to listen to it hundreds of times. Then you need to find one specific part and listen to that hundreds more to replicate it. Then you practice it hundreds of times until it’s perfect. By the time you know the whole thing, not only is the honeymoon over, but the secret’s out too. Ever heard the phrase “a magician never reveals his trick?” This is exactly why – no matter how smoothly the magician pulls off his trick, as long as you know how it’s being done, that feeling of sheer awe you’re supposed to get is gone for good.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying “don’t ever learn to play songs!”. A guitarist needs to know how to play songs just like a magician needs to know how to perform tricks. The point I’m trying to make is this: if this is what it’s like for you when you learn songs, that’s what it’s like for everyone else when they listen to them, too. If every song in existence went C,G,D, and every guitar player sounded exactly like Hendrix then things would get pretty stale pretty quick. In my opinion, the most memorable and inspirational guitar playing is that which is truly inventive. Something that when you hear it, you can’t immediately associate it to the style of another guitarist, and you want to know what it is that makes it stand out.

Rather than purposely refraining from learning songs, you can keep things “mysterious” by doing something you wouldn’t normally do. Try playing in a key you aren’t entirely familiar with. Try learning a new scale or riff that feels foreign to your fingers. Try to use a new effect (or with today’s technology, come up with one from scratch), and see how you can incorporate it into your playing. Experiment, and don’t get caught in a rut trying to emulate what’s already been done. You’ll find yourself having a lot of fun creating, and, if you find a way to really set yourself apart, anyone who’s listening will appreciate that you’re doing something that sounds new to them.

Look out for Part 2 – next week I’ll talk about a couple other sources of inspiration; the evocation of emotion and the admiration of skill.