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Category ArchiveLessons, Tips & How-To’s

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Stocking Stuffers for the Budding Guitarist

Stocking Stuffers for the Budding Guitarist

by Vince Schaljo

With the Christmas season fast approaching, finding the perfect “something” for someone can prove taxing. Depending on how well you know the person, you can often find yourself taking a shot in the dark picking something up that you think they might like or use. When it comes to budding guitar players though, it’s easy to fill a stocking with little things you can be sure they’ll use. Here’s my top ten list of practical stocking stuffers for the aspiring guitarist!ss1aStrings.

Every guitar needs to be restrung on a regular basis. Learning how to do it yourself will not only save a little money in the long run, but will also mean you don’t need to leave your guitar at a shop overnight for a simple restring to be done. If the player is relatively new to the instrument, a medium gauge 10-46 should do just fine. If they’re more experienced, find out what they like first!

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Lemon oil, string winder, guitar polish.

I lumped these together because they all have to do with general guitar maintenance. It’s imperative that a guitar neck is kept in good condition by giving it a healthy dose of lemon oil when it gets dry. A string winder will help the restring process go much quicker, and guitar polish will help keep your guitar-playing-companion’s baby looking nice and shiny. Just as I mentioned with the strings, learning to do these simple things will save time and money!
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Clip Tuner

Playing a guitar that’s in tune is better for everyone in the instrument’s vicinity. Clip tuners make keeping it in tune very easy, and can be used even in high volume areas. Simply clip the tuner to the guitar’s headstock, set it to “vibration”, and the tuner will read each note based on the vibrations that the frequency sends through the guitar.
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Capo
A handy tool for any player hoping to be the next big singer-songwriter, a capo allows you to shift the “open” position of the guitar from the nut to any fret you wish. This allows you to play typical open chord shapes for chords that would normally require extensive barre chord shapes. It’s also a lot of fun to experiment with alternate tunings with a capo, or even using a “partial” capo to leave some strings open.

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Strap / strap locks

Anyone who wants to play in a band or play in front of an audience will get good use out of a strap. It feels different to play when the guitar is hanging from your shoulder than when sitting, so it’s good to get used to both before you jump on the stage. When it comes time to do that though, strap locks would be a good idea. Many straps are notorious for slipping off a guitar’s strap buttons, which are what strap buttons are here to prevent. You can get inexpensive plastic ones, or invest in a set of metal locks that replace the original guitar strap buttons.
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Picks!

There is a conspiracy that exists among guitar players where all their picks up and vanish. So, when someone hands us a handful of guitar picks, it’s like winning the lottery.
Just like with strings, make sure you know what the experienced player likes to use before buying. Guitarists can be picky when picking their picks.
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Effects Pedal

Most professional players’ guitar rigs contain at least a couple effects pedals. The budding player can plug in a pedal to try and dial in a sound similar to that of their heroes, or just to have a little fun. Even if you’re not sure what kind of effect they may want to play with, a good reverb, delay, or boost pedal will always be a winner.
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Educational Program

Relatively inexpensive computer programs exist that make learning songs and jotting down musical notation easier than just learning by reading it. Guitar Pro is a good example – you simply download any compatible sheet music or tab, and the program will playback the song as it reads through the notation. You can slow parts down and speed them up, or even write in your own notation and have the program play them back using a variety of selectable instruments. There’s a ton more features that make it a great tool for any player looking to learn, practice, and write music.
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Guitar Lessons

Ok, so you can’t throw them into a stocking. That said, one on one guitar lessons with a good teacher is still the best way to learn an instrument. An interactive setting where the student is able to ask questions and receive feedback simply can’t be beat by a program or just reading online.

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Cheddar Shredder

Sometimes shredding for five minutes can turn out cheesy. With this fantastic invention, shredding for five minutes will actually create strands of delicious cheese. You’ll need to start with a solid brick of it, though.

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Merry Christmas, and happy playing!

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Tips on Tone – Issue #16

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If you’ve ever plucked a string that’s got a tiny bit of fluff, fuzz, or even dirt on it, you’ll know how big a difference such a small thing can make in the way the string sounds. The way you pluck the strings, the way you fret the strings, and what you use to pluck the strings also play a part in how the guitar ultimately sounds. There’s one thing that all of these have in common, from a piece of fluff to the material your pick is made out of; they all make contact with the strings.

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Now, these are all things that are easily noticed and rather simple to change. You can remove fluff, you can use a different pick, and you can practise a different playing style. Some things, however, go unnoticed and can be simply “accepted” for the way they are. Each string is wrapped around a machine head, where it then goes to lay on a nut. When you fret a note, you are pushing the string down so it makes contact with a piece of metal fret wire. At the body of the guitar is a saddle that cradles the string before reaching its ball end where it is held in place.

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The size, shape, and quality of each of these components has an effect on how that string vibrates just as different picks and annoying fluff does. The thing is, when you pick up a high end guitar and play it, the “wow” factor you get from its sound is a combination of everything that that was put into its construction. As such, it can be hard to identify exactly what you want in a guitar without trading out components and listening for yourself. Trust me on this though: if you take a guitar with a plastic nut and play an open E chord, then remove the nut and put on a bone one, you’ll hear the difference right away. In this article I’ll talk about some of the examples I listed above, and things to consider when thinking about tone and your playing. Let’s start at the top…

 

  1. The Machine Heads

The most important part about sounding good is playing in tune. While falling out of tune isn’t always a fault of the machine heads, they’re definitely a main contributor. Proper stringing methods combined with a good quality set of pegs is the best way to keep a guitar in tune, and taking it a step further would be to invest in a set of locking tuners.

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Apart from tuning stability, you may actually notice a tonal difference from a tuning peg that is built better than another. A peg that is well made will have all of its inside components fit securely, and the mechanism will operate smoothly. Tight fitting, well-built parts make for a much smaller risk of rattling noise, and transference of vibrations from the string to the wood will be superior.

Plastic heads on the tuners definitely add a cool look and vintage vibe to the guitar, but over time these can be notorious for breaking and crumbling off of their posts. To me, that’s a little too much vintage vibe. If you’re set on going the non-metal route, be sure to go with a good quality reputable brand – but even then don’t expect them to last forever. Some brands I would recommend checking out for your machine heads are Kluson, Sperzel, Schaller, Gotoh, and Grover.

tt16e2) The Nut

After the machine head, this is the first place the string rests on the guitar. A good nut is one that is made of a high quality material, and is cut to the right size. You don’t want your strings to be lying on the first fret, or too far away from it. Nut slots that are not filed properly can cause fret buzz, make it too hard to play, or even cause strings to slip / get caught resulting in tuning problems. The idea is to use a hard material that won’t decay or chip under string tension, while still being something reasonably easy to cut into shape.

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A solid choice for good nut material would be bone. Many players agree that a bone nut yields the best sound compared to others, and luthiers are happy because it is relatively easier to work with than some of the other options. Synthetic materials exist that have been manufactured to mimic bone density like TusQ, and as such behave similarly. Other materials you can use are metal, graphite, wood, and ebony. Graphite is a good choice for instruments with tremolo systems, as it allows the string to move a little more freely. Using a pencil to draw into the nut slots of a non-graphite nut is a trick you can use to simulate that benefit.

Keep in mind that when you fret a note, you are effectively cutting off the string between your finger and the nut. Therefore, the effect that the nut material has on your overall tone is minimal compared to the effect it has on open notes. Some guitars come with a “zero fret” installed which was originally intended for quick instrument production. It’s far easier to file the nut down far enough for the strings to simply rest on the zero fret than it is to get the string height at the nut right without a zero fret.

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Perhaps a side effect of this style is that the zero fret may equalize the tone from your open notes with that of your fretted notes. The string sits on “fret zero”, so even when not holding anything down, you get the sound of a string against a fret rather than just the nut. No matter the route you go for material, if you’re looking to replace a nut try and have someone custom make one for your guitar. It’s extremely important that this piece is done right!

3) The Frets

Technically you could use a variety of different materials for your guitar frets, but, unlike the nut, most guitars use either a “nickel-silver” or “nickel-steel” compound. Different levels of hardness can be achieved by adjusting the percentages in this compound. For a high quality fret, you want a very hard fret material. Harder frets are of course more difficult to work with for the luthier, but they will last longer by reducing the amount of fret wear caused by your strings.

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What’s more important when it comes to your frets is their shape and size. This is one component that really boils down to your playing style. For quick and easy play, a tall and wide fret is very handy. The taller the fret, the less force you need to apply to make the string meet it. This can be a double edged sword if you aren’t used to tall frets. Yes, it will make playing fast runs easier, but it will also make playing notes sharp easier as you will likely be pushing too hard out of habit. You’ll need to adjust your playing a bit to really benefit from taller frets.

Wide “jumbo” frets are well-liked because they tend to be easier to bend strings across, help greatly with vibrato, and typically feel smoother when sliding up and down the neck. As a bonus, the fret won’t wear as fast as a thin fret as the string spans across a greater surface area.

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For the true “vintage” feel, you’ll want a thinner fret. For some, it is easier to play a guitar with thinner frets due to extra space you’ll have between them. As the string makes contact with less surface area with these, intonation should be more accurate here as well (as long as the frets are seated properly!)

No matter the fret size you go with, proper maintenance of them is key. When your frets become worn (and they will), you will need to get them crowned and possibly levelled. Fret buzz, dead notes, string grinding and poor intonation are problems that can be avoided by proper care of your frets.

 

As always, experiment! Try things you may not have and see what works for you.

 

Happy playing!

 

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Tips on Tone – Issue #15

For most guitarists, the go-to electric guitar layout is that of either a two or three pickup model. With either independent volume and tone knobs for each pickup, or a master volume with independent tone controls, these designs seem to have just what the player needs in an instrument. That said, there’s a whole slew of guitar designs beyond the realm of “what’s known and most common”, and you’d be missing out to not give some of them a second look! In this article I’ll be comparing two opposites: the “ol’ trusty bare-bones” one pickup guitar, and the “which-button-turns-on-the-space-ship?” multi-functional guitar.

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The Minimalist 

We had to start somewhere. The very first electric guitar was, of course, as simple as it gets: a neck, a small body, one pickup, and one volume control. Over the past eighty-something years, manufacturers have made additions and changes to their guitars to give more options to those who want them. You may think that if two, three, even four pickup guitars with all the bells and whistles are available, why would anyone ever settle for something with just one? Yet, many companies are still making one-pickups, and there’s only one reason for that… people still buy them!

There are definitely some advantages to owning a single pickup guitar, and there are those who argue the “less is more” idea in this regard. Here’s a few things to consider about this design:

1. Rock Out.

Just plug in, and play. There’s no second guessing anything here: you have your one pickup turned on full, and you’re always getting pure guitar tone through the amp. If you enjoy playing a style of music where all you ever need is that shrill, loud, bridge-pickup sound, then why not have a guitar that gives you exactly that?

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  1. No “Crutches”

You don’t have the option of switching pickups, rolling off any tone, or pushing / pulling any knobs. Everything you get from your amp is from you. Playing a single pickup guitar forces you to physically play different if you want to sound different. Having a good sense of dynamics is key, and exercising the use of different picking styles can get you a variety of tones you wouldn’t think possible from just one bridge pickup. Mixing these ideas with good use of your volume knob can easily turn a single pickup guitar into a multi-functional beast.

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  1. The “Rumours”

There’s a few arguments out there that suggest what’s going on inside a single pickup guitar, or rather, what’s not going on, can ultimately affect its tone. It is a fact that the magnetic field used by pickups to amplify your strings also has a small amount of “pull” on them. I’ve had players come up to me with a complaint that their guitar has a weird out of tune, double note effect when fretting notes all the way up the fret board. The simple fix is to lower the pickups – they were pulling too hard, interrupting the string’s vibrations. So, with only one pickup, perhaps it can be assumed that less force pulling the strings allows it to vibrate better, and longer. That translates to more sustain, which is always a sought after quality in a guitar.

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  1. Easy on the Workbench

 

If your single pickup guitar’s electronics start having problems, it won’t take long to fix it. When you open it up, you’ll see that there’s virtually nothing to it. One pickup, one volume control, and one input. That’s it. It will take no time to identify the culprit, fix it, and get back to playing!

The Everything-ist

It’s a natural thing to want to move forward, and it’s no different for guitar makers and players. It didn’t take long for the electric guitar to evolve, and have the number of options you can see on some models today. Below I’ll list some of the things that you can find on guitars with “way too many” knobs, and try to dispel some of the confusion surrounding their functions.

1. Blending Pickups

This is obviously something you can’t do with a single pickup guitar. Typically, with your toggle switch in the middle position on a 2 pickup guitar, both of your pickups are “on” creating a “blended” sound from both combined. If your guitar has independent volume knobs, you can then increase or decrease one pickup’s volume to further change how your guitar sounds. Better yet, some guitars come with a “blend” knob, which will fully sweep from neck to bridge pickup so you can hear everything in between, and dial in to that tone you’re looking for.

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2. Coil tap / coil split

These are two different features that are commonly referred to as the same, or mixed up. While both change how your pickup sounds, each does it in a different way. A coil tap is used on single coil pickups, and works by essentially reducing your pickup’s full output. Think of it this way: your pickup is a magnet with copper wire wound around it thousands of times. When electricity passes through that whole distance of wire, it means you are getting your full output (unless your guitar’s volume is turned down). A coil tap takes the signal from an earlier point in these coils, thus reducing the overall power of the pickup. It will give you a softer, more “chimey” tone that will remind you of the old Fender sound.

A coil split is a function that refers to humbucking pickups. It allows you to cut out one of the two coils in the pickup to leave you with a single pickup sound, which is great if want to have the best of both worlds from one guitar.

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3. Switches

You can have switches on your guitar that can have virtually any function. A kill switch that will essentially turn on or off your guitar’s output, a phase switch that will flip your pickup from being “in phase” to “out of phase”, or even having independent toggle switches for any number of pickups on your guitar.

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It comes down to the kind of player you are. Do you want one instrument that can handle anything, and are you able to handle everything included on the guitar? Or do you want a guitar that can do one thing really well? Either way, I recommend giving both a try before dismissing them without playing. You might surprise yourself!

 

Happy playing!

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Tips on Tone – Issue #14

There’s a familiar desire amongst guitarists and musicians alike to be able to replicate the sounds our heroes can create with their instruments. After enough time spent listening and playing, we can pick out song patterns and gain a keen enough ear to be able to say “yep, that’s definitely a Strat!”

Sometimes, however, we can be thrown for a loop. There’s the rare occasion where we hear something through our speakers that makes us second guess what we’re hearing, and wonder if it’s even a guitar making those sounds. In this issue, I’ll talk about three (perhaps lesser known) techniques and devices that have been used to create strange, cool, and even iconic sounds by many great players of the past and present.

The E-Bow

For those who thought that a guitar pick or your fingers were the only method of setting your guitar strings in motion, you’re in for an interesting surprise…

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For those who want to try something other than a pick and still sound good, (sorry Nigel) there was a device invented in the late 1960’s that could be used in place of a guitar pick that created a sound that mimicked that of a bow on the strings. Aptly named, the “E-Bow” (short for electronic bow) works using a magnetic field that slowly brings the string into vibration.

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This means there is no pluck, hit, or attack – you simply get the “hum” sound seemingly from nothing. There are different ways you can use this; single string guitar solos sound really cool while under this effect, and you can even glide the E-bow across the strings while holding a chord to create violin-like arpeggios. The trick is finding the resonant “hotspots” on your string. Depending on the location you place the E Bow over the string, you can create a few different sounds. If you want an idea of what this thing sounds like, check out Steve Hackett’s playing in “Carpet Crawlers” or David Gilmour’s in “Take it Back”.

The TalkBox

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You may have heard this sound before and either thought there was some kind of effect added to the singing, or that it was a simple guitar “wah” pedal. Peter Frampton would tell you otherwise!

The TalkBox is similar to a guitar effects pedal, except for the fact that it’s your mouth that’s ultimately altering the signal. The unit takes the guitar output from the amp, and sends it through a plastic tube that the guitarist holds in their mouth. When the shape of the mouth changes over the tube, so does the output sound coming from the tube. That sound goes through your mic and voila! The talkbox sound. You can use this effect to literally sing the words of songs and have them sound robotic and electronic, or you can just shape different sounds to make a unique effect. It definitely comes in handy – especially when your mouth is moving around while you’re soloing anyways.

Have a listen to Joe Walsh in “Rocky Mountain Way”, Peter Frampton in many of his songs but especially “Do You Feel Like We Do”, or for an example in heavy rock music check out the solo in Tool’s “Jambi”.

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The Kill-switch Effect

                  For those of you who may not know what a kill switch on a guitar is, it is usually a control that comes in either the form of a button or a toggle that simply cuts out all output from your guitar. The original intention for this would be, of course, to limit stage noise when not playing. Simply flip the switch, and there’s no hum from the guitar amp! Just remember to flick it back on when it’s time to play. Though this was the original intent – many rock guitarists now see a function like this more so as an effect, thanks mainly to guitarist Tom Morello.

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While fretting notes with your left hand, you can rapidly flick on / off the kill switch to create a more “intense” sounding tremolo effect. Instead of your output fading in and out quickly, it’s literally shutting off and on. You can use this technique on its own to create an interesting effect, or add other signal processors into the equation to mimic other instruments.

No killswitch on your instrument? Not to worry! If your instrument has two pickups each with independent volume controls (like a Les Paul configuration), you can simply turn one pickup all the way down and quickly switch the toggle from neck to bridge pickup to get the same effect. You can hear the effect in action in a lot of Tom’s work as well as a few other artists who have adopted the technique, but to hear a couple good examples check out “Know Your Enemy” for a sound that’s almost harmonica-like, or the solo in “Bulls on Parade” that sound like a DJ scratching a vinyl. Both songs are by the band Rage Against the Machine.

Unconventional, but cool! Sometimes it’s refreshing to think outside the box – you never know what you might come up with.

 

Happy Playing!

 

 

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Tips on Tone – Issue 13

Every guitar player can agree upon one thing: we always want to sound good. In the world of the electric guitar, it’s a widely accepted fact that in order to achieve “good”, we need to play loud!

Perhaps you’re not the person who has a soundproofed studio in their basement to record your hottest new guitar solo idea at ungodly levels. Maybe you don’t have a giant rehearsal space in your living room to host jam parties until four in the morning. These are things that any musician can relate to, or can at least say they have had to relate to at some point in their lives!

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So if you’re living in a crowded neighborhood or apartment, how can you play your guitar and truly enjoy the sound you’re getting without receiving angry letters from next door?

1) Power Soaker / Attenuator

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This is for those of you who just can’t put aside your powerful tube amp. The phrase “sounding good while playing loud” is synonymous with “tube amp” – you really want the tubes to be running hot in order to get their full potential. What a power attenuator does, essentially, is keep the tubes running hot while reducing your overall volume level. The tubes may still be running hot (your amp turned up to a desirable level) but a large portion of the power can be re-routed to the attenuator instead of all of it going to the speaker.

That said, you are still sucking power from the amp. If you’re driving the attenuator at too high a level, you’ll likely end up sucking out some of that tone that you’re trying to preserve. If this is the route you must go, invest in a good quality attenuator. The Rivera Rock Crusher or the THD Hotplate are each strong examples of a good place to start!

2) Go Solid-state

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As time progresses, technology gets better and better. While it still hasn’t captured the sound and feel of a real, loud tube amp (in my opinion), a good quality solid state amp can sound far better than many tube amps when comparing “bedroom” levels. In addition, many solid state amps today come with a plethora of onboard effects you can explore without breaking your bank. Here’s a couple examples of good solid state amps to check out:
Roland Cube

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I love the Roland Cubes! They have an excellent clean tone, and a few different levels of crunch that go all the way up to “R-Fier Stack”, which by name seems to be a mesa boogie simulator. While extreme levels of saturation are rarely pristine sounding on solid state practice amps, I really like the “tweed” and “classic stack” settings on this one. Dial in a little reverb and slap-back delay (which you can have both of directly from the amp) and you’ll have a sweet bluesy tone from a small, quiet amp. Some of the upgraded versions feature an onboard tuner, and loop recorder as well!

 

Yamaha THR5

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Like the cube, the THR5 has an incredible clean tone and features a bunch of different onboard gain settings and effects. It comes with a tap delay that doubles as a tuner when you hold the button down. The coolest thing about this amp though is the included THR Editor. This is computer software that allows you to go in and edit your amp’s effects and amp simulators at any time. Think of the THR5 as a guitar amp combined with an audio interface – for under $300! Upon loading up the THR editor, you’ll notice a ton of options to choose from and sounds you can create. On top of all this, the amp has a vintage-cool look to it with an orange glow coming through the front grill to make it look like it’s got tubes working hard on the inside!

3) Plug into your Computer

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Again, with the advancement of the digital age, more and more of the ways of old are being phased out to make room for that of the new. The theme seems to be “convenience”, while you can get everything you need in one little box while many argue that you end up sacrificing overall sound quality. With these advancements comes (for some people) the irrelevance of even having a practice amp in their practice room! New products are always coming out that allow you to simulate amp sound and dial in tones that were previously thought unimaginable without actually having the amp at your disposal. A big name that has been taking the market by storm in recent years is known as “Axe-FX” by Fractal Audio Systems.

It is an entirely digital unit that features not only a large bank of remarkable sounding amp emulations, but also endless editing options for these emulations, or basic effects that you wish to change or create yourself. The positive thing about using a system like this is that your limitations are greatly reduced in comparison to using a physical amplifier. That is, the number of parameters you can play with go far beyond the pre-programmed “bass, mid and treble” you get in a stock amplifier. It’s no surprise that many artists are catching on to this way of playing and recording, with the likes of Adrian Belew, Guthrie Govan, Tom Cochrane and Alex Lifeson (to name a few) all singing its praises!

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I guess the best advice would have to be: don’t be afraid to leave the comfort zone. We’ve all heard for years that the only way to play and sound good is to go all tube and use a 3,000 dollar guitar. But then, isn’t playing music supposed to be about an individual’s feeling and originality, and maybe not trying to do what everyone else already is? I think it’s great to explore, and realize that quality sounds can come from the “wrong” places; and they can do it without giving you a bad rap amongst your neighbours!

 

Happy Playing!

 

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Tips on Tone – Issue 12

To many, recording music can seem to be a mystical thing. The incredible sounds and balanced mixes that pulse through your speakers can both inspire and intimidate the novice musician into getting the best possible sound in their recordings. While there do exist “magicians” in the realm of engineering, producing, and mixing and mastering songs, there are a few things that you as a guitar player can do to help ease the recording process and ultimately capture the best tone you can. Whether you’re going into a studio with a few hired guns, or are taking on the entire process yourself, try to use a few of these tips and tricks to make everyone happy!

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  1. Know your parts.

Sure, spontaneity has its time and place, and often a lot of things that make the final cut of a song are things that have been written or jammed out on the spot. That said, having a solid grasp on your songs and the parts you are going to play means you get more time to focus on tweaking tone rather than making mistakes or writing as you go. In the studio, time is money! The more takes you can bang out, the bigger the pool you have to choose from when piecing things together.

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2. “Magicians” can only go so far…

 As I said, there are some extremely gifted individuals in the recording industry. However, as a wise man once said, “you can’t polish a turd.” If you enter the studio with a guitar that hasn’t been restrung or set-up in months, your recording is already doomed to mediocrity. Here’s an example: take a black marker, and a brown marker. Draw two lines. Do they look different? Yes, they are different colors! By the same token, let’s say you’re using two different guitars on your recording – one that’s set up properly and one that hasn’t been touched in months. Even if they’re both bang-on in tune in the open position, chances are the intonation on one is going to be all askew. It’s going to be the brown marker, and there’s nothing you can do to change that other than use the black marker again. Or just get the guitar intonated.

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3. Then tune. Then tune…

This should be obvious, but keep your guitar in tune! Check your tuning before and after each take to ensure nothing has slipped out. As a general rule, if you’re recording with another guitar player, bass player etc. be sure to use the same tuner they used. Different tuners can vary ever so slightly in their readings, and discrepancies are far more audible when played back than when played live.

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4. Layering

“The wall of sound” as it’s so famously described! You’ll want to double track a lot of your guitar parts – especially your rhythms. It can sound pretty powerful just using the same guitar and settings, but for a thicker sound try using a different guitar. Two different instruments can add a more “live”, or “real” sound to the mix even if it’s the same person playing the parts. If a second guitar isn’t available, or you simply enjoy the feel of one in particular, try switching pickups or rolling off some tone. The idea is to add depth and thickness to the guitar track, so you may as well make it sound like two guitars!

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5. Distortion

If your songs played live involve a lot of distortion, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to match that amount on the recording. Too much distortion can take away from articulation drastically and just make for a jumbled sounding mix. You’d be surprised how big of a sound you can get in a recording with a much smaller amount of distortion – especially with the layering technique I talked about in point 3!

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6. Mic Placement

Your ears work a little bit different than microphones. When you listen to a guitar played through an amp live, it’s not just the guitar and the amp that are vibrating. You’re making the room move, too, and depending on where you place your mics you can pick up some of this room sound. If you’re looking for straight, tight, pure guitar tone then you’ll want to use a close-miking technique to capture just what the amp’s giving you. For a more airy, ambient and open sound, try a more distant mic. If your cabinet has multiple speakers, it’s a good idea to choose one to mic up. Find the speaker cone, and see what it sounds like depending on where you aim the mic. You can also try using more than one microphone on the same speaker in a different location, or even try miking a separate speaker. The closer to the center of the cone, the harsher and brighter the tone. The further out, the opposite! Try it out!

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7. Signal Processing

We all love a nice slap-back delay and wet reverb, but it’s a good idea to record your guitar as dry as possible without any effects. You’re going to be EQing your guitar tone after it’s recorded, and you’ll generally want any changes like this to be done to just guitar and not the effects. You can easily add these on after the fact. If you’re like me, and you absolutely have to hear some effects when recording (if you sound better, you play better!) then you can have the effects sent to your headphones but not to the recording track. That way you hear what you want without potentially compromising anything.

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These are just a few things to consider when trying to get the best guitar sound possible in your recording. There’s lots more to keep in mind, but it’s good even to have the basics down. Best of luck in your studio adventures!

 

Happy Playing!

 

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BARITONE GUITAR: What It Is & Why You Need One

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

Baritone guitar

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tension Chart

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

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

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

Coming Soon: Classic 6 Baritone semi-acoustic

New Eastwood Custom Shop Classic 6 Baritone

New Eastwood Custom Shop Classic 6 Baritone

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

Classic 6 baritone

A brief history of… Baritone guitars

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

The Evens

Ian McKeye and his baritone guitar, live with The Evens

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

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

shop for baritone guitars

OK… How does a baritone guitar sound?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips on Tone – Issue 11

When you walk into a guitar shop, there’s a few main differences you’ll notice about the instruments hanging on the walls (other than their price). The first could likely be all the different colors, while the second may be the variety of shapes and sizes. So when looking for a guitar with a particular tone that suits you, which should you go for? The color and the way the guitar looks is all an aesthetics thing, right?

Not exactly. Sure, a guitar’s color is really just for show – but the construction and design of both the guitar’s neck and body do have an effect on your sound. Last time I talked about some of the woods that can be used in a guitar’s construction, and here I’ll talk about a couple of the ways it can be put together to both look and sound unique.

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The earliest form of the electric guitar wasn’t far off from the acoustic. After all, the original intention was to simply find a method of effectively amplifying the guitar’s volume so it could compete better on stage with other popular instruments of the day. Eighty-five years later, we still see this original design in use all over the world: the semi-acoustic.

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“Traditional” looking semi-acoustics retain the aesthetics of the acoustic guitar. The Gibson ES-150 was the first commercially successful of this type: a very large, thick and hollow guitar that was widely used in jazz ensembles.

 

When referring to the tone of a semi acoustic, the most common word you will hear is: feedback. Depending on who you are, this could be either a very good or a very bad thing! When your guitar and amp levels go up, these guitars are notorious for that high pitched growl that (if not desired or controlled) will make your ears bleed. When they were invented, there was no need to set a guitar to the level that induced such sounds. Once they were discovered as a culprit of feedback, alternative construction methods were sought out (which I’ll talk about later) while certain individuals embraced their “faults”.

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Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, T. Bone Walker, Chuck Berry, John Lennon, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton are just a few notable examples of musicians who made great use of the semi-acoustic guitar. The first two I listed were two of the earliest electric guitar players to live. Their use of the instrument is one way that it can still be used well today: jazz. The earliest guitar tones heard in jazz, rockabilly, blues etc. were done using a semi acoustic. If you are looking for the warmest, roundest yet most “chimey” tone you can find that really holds a “vintage” appeal, then make sure to invest in one of these. On the contrary, if you’re looking for a hard rock, gritty snarl that will give you ample feedback whenever you need, this is the easiest way to achieve it. Not to mention: if you already own a solid body guitar (or are in a band with another guitarist who does) you can create some pretty thick sounding tones when layering a semi acoustic with a solid body.

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Designers and luthiers are always looking for ways to make things better, and that’s why when feedback became an issue, they looked for other options. This is when the solid body electric guitar began to surface. The idea was that without the resonating air space that came with the hollowbody guitars, feedback could be reduced. Long story short: it worked, and the solid body electric guitar is now the most recognizable design that can be associated with the words “electric guitar”.

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The obvious benefit of the solid body guitar is that it allows you to crank your level and gain to heights you wouldn’t be able to with a semi acoustic without getting nasty feedback. That’s not to say you can’t get any. Look at Jimi Hendrix and Steve Vai – both are masters of controlling overpowered equipment. Another benefit is that the guitar is not as delicate. If you’re one to throw your guitar around, or are prone to dropping things… a solid body is less likely to break on you. You might say it’s pretty solid.

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More options tend to come with solid body guitars. For example, the “Set-neck” construction was really the only design used before the birth of the solid body. Neck-through guitars and bolt-on guitars came later, and offer other subtleties in tone and functionality. The bolt-on, for example can be removed or replaced on a whim, while a neck-through guitar is commonly regarded as the best design available to achieve the most sustain. Another advantage of the solid body is that they tend to be easier to work on. Most semi acoustic guitars don’t feature a back panel, so in order to get at their electronics you have to pull everything through their pickup cavity or their F holes. Many solid bodies do feature a pack panel, and the ones that don’t tend to have their electronics mounted to their pick guard. It makes life a whole lot easier for you or your technician!

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All in all, there’s a couple things to consider when deciding between these two options. Do you want to play heavy and loud without the fear of unwanted feedback? Do you want to maintain the dynamics and subtleties of your guitar while sacrificing headroom? As always, listen to your heroes and then listen to yourself. Test things out, and see what you like! If you still can’t decide, then just do what every guitarist ends up doing: buy one of everything!

 

Happy Playing!

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Vincent’s Guitar Workshop – issue 11

BIGSBY PART II: – Issue ten finished off after giving tips on how to properly align a Bigsby unit to the body of your guitar so that it not only looks great, but works great too. Now it’s time to get the tools out to mount the piece, and then restring it to finish the job!

A wise man once said “measure twice; cut once”, and the same goes for drilling holes. Placing the Bigsby in the right spot will have been all for nothing if you slip, and either scratch the body or drill in the wrong spot. It’s for this reason that I’d like to back up a bit. If you’re worried about ruining the finish, you may want to tape off the body where you’ll be drilling before lining up the Bigsby. In my photo example here I marked my drill spots on the body of the guitar, then covered them with tape.

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This works if you want to save tape, but it means you’ll have to line the Bigsby up again and re-mark your drill spots on the tape.

Whichever route you go, you’ll need to use a thin marker to slip in the middle of each screw hole you see on the Bigsby. With the marks in place, you’re safe to make your pilot holes! From here on out, the installation of the Bigsby is simple – but you’ll still have to be careful with the drill no matter how much you’ve taped up your guitar. Be sure to use a drill bit that’s smaller than the screws provided, and start off slow. As a final confirmation of alignment, after you’ve drilled the first hole, screw the Bigsby down to just that one hole. From here, you can still rotate the Bigsby if it may have tilted a bit during the drilling process. After you’ve made any necessary corrections, you can safely drill the rest of the holes and fully attach the Bigsby to the guitar.

The first time I added a Bigsby unit to a guitar, I found the stringing process to actually be trickier than the installation! One thing you may wonder is when to put the included spring under the arm. It’s really up to you, I’ve done it both before and after stringing with relatively similar ease. The benefit I find with adding it after is that the pins you loop the string ball ends over are slightly easier to reach without the spring.

To start, bend the string at the tip. This will allow you to thread it easily underneath the rotating bar without scratching the finish:

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From there you can pull the string all the way through until the ball end lines up with the bar with the string pins. Now you can bend the string again at the ball end, to make it easier to loop it around the bar:

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When you’ve got the ball end on, it becomes a game of tension. Unlike a guitar bridge, the pin is not going to just hold the string on unless you pull hard on the string until it’s tuned up to pitch. You may want to physically hold the ball end to the pin with your finger until you can get a good grasp on it.

The first time you do this modification may take a while, and the stringing process definitely takes some practice. After you’ve done it once though, you’ll have no problem doing it again. With a little bit of research and know-how, you can make all sorts of changes and upgrades to an already great instrument. I hope you can take something away from this article, and perhaps even gain the confidence needed to turn this:

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into this!

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Vincent’s Guitar Workshop – issue 10

Bigsby Part One – 

If you’ve ever got (or thought about getting) a tattoo, you can probably remember the heated debate that went on in your head. What should it be? Where should it go? How much do I want to pay? Will I even want to look at this 30 years from now?

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Any form of permanent modification should be something that is long thought out, and carried out by someone who knows what they’re doing. The same can be said for modifications done to guitars. While just about anything is possible to change or fix, just about anything is possible to mess up too.
In this article I’ll go over the process I use to put a little “spring” in your “string”, to change “still” to “thrill”, and move from “turf” to “surf”. This one’s all about the Bigsby tremolo system, and how to add one to your guitar.

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The Bigsby was perhaps the earliest iteration of the now widely known “whammy bar”. It works by wrapping the strings around a cylindrical bar, which is then rotated by pushing a lever or “arm” down to loosen the strings. This creates a drop in pitch. A raise in pitch can be achieved by lifting the arm, thus rotating the bar in the opposite direction to tighten the strings.
With proper installation, you will have a great working tremolo unit that keeps your guitar’s tuning very well. The Bigsby is not meant for extreme drops or raises in pitch, but rather subtle vibrato.
The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out which Bigsby hardware model you want. There are various types, some that come attached with a tailpiece and some that just fasten right on top of the guitar. This decision is mostly based on aesthetic appeal, but make sure there’s enough room on your guitar’s body if you want a larger Bigsby. For hollow body guitars, find out if you have a center block inside the guitar that you will be able to mount screws to. If it does not, you may have to go with a tailpiece Bigsby such as the B70, or B3. Here’s a picture of a B70 followed by one of a B50 that mounts directly into the face of the guitar’s body:

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Some guitars feature a tail piece that is drilled into the face of the guitar’s body. If you’re absolutely set on installing a Bigsby on this instrument, keep in mind that you will either need to try using a model like the B70 or B3, or be willing to cover up those unsightly holes left after the installation.
Another thing to keep in mind when making your purchase is that standard guitar bridges are not always designed to function with tremolo units. The strings will tend to catch onto the saddles and just push and pull the bridge as you use the tremolo arm, affecting intonation and just making things sound rigid. It would be a good idea to invest in some kind of “roller bridge” (like the one in the following picture) to allow proper use of your Bigsby:

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Alternatively you can use a set of files to lightly file out the grooves in the saddles to “round” them a bit. It won’t work as well as rollers, but it’s better than nothing!
Let’s get the process started. Once the strings are off, you can begin by swapping out the bridge if you have one. Ideally you will have one that fits the old bridge posts. Next you can remove the guitar’s tailpiece to get ready for the new Bigsby. For this example I’m installing a B50 Bigsby to an Airline Tuxedo with center block.

 

Alignment

 

Typically your new Bigsby will come with an “alignment string” that you can use to ensure your Bigsby is set properly. For full instructions on how to use it, check out their official install instructions at www.Bigsby.com. The following are the steps I take and some tips you can use in addition to using this string, or without it.

It’s important to first place the Bigsby in a spot that looks right to you. Set it on the body, and look at it from different angles. Does the arm sit in an accessible spot? Is it too close to the controls for your liking? The distance you place the Bigsby from the bridge makes a difference. The closer to the bridge, the steeper the angle from the saddles to the Bigsby. Too close, and you risk having too much pressure on the bridge resulting in it being pulled backward and affecting intonation, as well as poor tremolo functionality. Too far and you simply won’t have as much tremolo control. This can also risk not having enough string pressure on the bridge (when set low), and potentially cause strings to pop out of their saddles when plucked. Here’s a look at what a close B50 placement does to the string angle VS a further B70:

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Keep in mind that some bridges (like the one I’m using for this example) are placed on an angle for intonation purposes, and it’s easy for this angle to deceive your eyes. You want the Bigsby to be aligned with the guitar, not the bridge. For this reason, I remove the angled bridge from the posts when first placing the unit.

With the bridge removed, placing a straight-edged block that is sized correctly up against your bridge pickup cover can solve both the straightness issue and distance issue as seen here:

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You can cut a block out of wood to use for this purpose, or find something of a good size like I did here.

 

Of course, distance and straightness aren’t the only factors that come into play when lining up the Bigsby. You want to make sure the strings travel straight from the bridge to the Bigsby string pins. With the bridge back on the guitar, hold a guitar string across the Low E string saddle down to its appropriate pin. Confirm that the string remains straight for this distance. Repeat this process for the High E string, and make any side-to-side adjustments of the Bigsby necessary.

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It’s a good idea to repeat this process a few times – adjusting the Bigsby straightness and distance, then the straightness of the string from saddle to pin before getting ready to drill. Once you’re completely satisfied, it’s on to the next step!

 

That’s it for part one. Next time, I’ll go over the preparations for drilling, the actual drilling, and finally, perhaps the most difficult part: the stringing of the guitar once the Bigsby has been installed!

 

Happy Playing!