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The Science of Stage Fright

If you have ever played on stage you are probably acquainted with stage fright. It happens to everyone, but not always in the same way. For some people walking on stage is pure terror. For others it’s a rush, but then fingers start to shake and are just downright uncooperative, missing notes that are a piece of cake at any other time. And then there are those times where you feel great and yet everything seems to come out wrong, and the harder you try the worse it gets.

I am using the term “stage fright” but for recording musicians it might be better labelled “mic fright” and for YouTubers “camera fright.” In both these situations you may have just played a song perfectly but as soon as the record light goes on you tense up and there goes the performance! And there’s not even an audience watching – yet.

Athletes know all about this too, usually giving it the unlovely name of “choking” – missing an easy score or play in a crucial situation. There are even players who are normally excellent but can be depended upon to choke in critical (i.e. game-winning) situations. And since major league sports are major financial industries, a lot of money has been spent on personal trainers and life coaches to help individual athletes perform better. Somewhat surprisingly though, there has been relatively little serious psychological study into the mental mechanism of sudden poor performance.

Like athletes, musicians tend to blame themselves for their stage fright. We try all sorts of techniques to “improve ourselves” out of it. And some of these work. For instance, there is no substitute for getting out in front of people so that performing for a crowd becomes “just something you do” like anything else. And of course you need to practice until you can practically play your whole set in your sleep, and then practice some more. But even with the best preparation and a whole battery of techniques (and I have to admit that “seeing the audience naked” has never worked for me), we are still likely to run into a night where our playing is awful, and it is most likely to be the night that someone you want to impress is there to hear you for the first time.

Why, oh why?!

A new study conducted by researchers at CalTech and University College of London sheds some fascinating light. Some of the results of their study seem obvious at first: we get excited when our performance will get us a reward, and excitement goes up as the reward increases. OK, so we hardly need a multi-million dollar fMRI machine to tell us this. Ah, but what it told the researchers was that there is a point where the higher the reward goes, the lower the excitement level becomes. In more specific terms, at some point our performance starts to suffer as the stakes get raised. We care too much.

The operative condition is loss aversion. Simply put, this means that it is more painful to us to lose, say, $100 than it is pleasurable to win it. (Set that figure wherever it becomes meaningful to you.) When the stakes are high, it is more important for us not to lose than it is to “win.” This ratchets up the pressure on us. But wait – we aren’t “losing” anything with a bad night are we?

In fact, our minds conceive of it as losing a lot. Things like reputation, chance to impress, may even a job if it’s an audition, but even that doesn’t explain the problem for recording or video at home. This is where it gets really insidious. When we head out on stage, we have in mind our perfect performance, just as when we push the record button. To our minds we have already envisioned it, we already have it in the can! So it’s not just a case of “I can walk away with a pretty good performance here” but “I can’t mess this up and ruin my perfect performance!” In the back of our minds we are more worried about losing the great performance than gaining a record of a good one. Again, there is a threshold where this begins to matter. So maybe you play great recording a song for Mother’s Day but totally freeze when it comes to a public YouTube offering. Sure you care about what Mom thinks, but you are really worried about making a big impression on the entire world.

So as the pressure rises, we “try” harder. We try to do things consciously that we have been doing automatically all along. Our fingers know the song, but suddenly our head wants to dictate their every movement, and it usually turns out that our head doesn’t know it as well as we might hope. The harder we try the worse it gets because our head gets more and more in the way of our fingers. My own worst moments happen when I suddenly become aware that a song I am playing is going extremely well, and I suddenly think: “OK, now don’t blow it in the last 30 bars!” Guess what happens?

This is why so many books are written on Zen and similar approaches to arts and sports. They are describing a technique that works and that you can practice yourself – clear your mind and let your fingers play. You’ve played it perfectly at home a thousand times that way, so allow your fingers to keep doing it on stage, or CD, or video. This is the wisdom behind the idea of “don’t over-think it.”

So how can we keep from over-thinking it? Like anything else, it takes practice. In this case, as part of your regular practice session for songs that you already know, start to clear your mind of thoughts about what you are playing. You might even want to start the process by thinking “what comes next?” and then consciously clearing your mind to let your fingers decide. The ultimate comes when you can force yourself to feel stage fright – maybe using vivid imagination or an actual memory – and then convincing yourself to not over-think what you are playing. Don’t so much force the thoughts out of your head as let them go. Realize that they are not helping your playing. You are teaching your head to trust your fingers. It takes time, but you can train your mind to stay out of the way of your fingers. This can really lift the pressure of performance, and you will also get the benefit of more enjoyment in your playing, no matter what the stakes.

Written by: Dr. Dave Walker


GAS Rule Book Addendum: Never Ever Use Your Wife’s Ebay Account to Buy a Guitar

We have been forced this week to make an ammendment to the popular, “GAS Rule Book”. After referring to Rule #23: “Never Ever Tell Your Spouse”, we followup with Rule #23b: “Never Ever Use Your Wife’s Ebay Account to Buy a Guitar”. I know it might seem obvious to most people, but after receiveing the following message yesterday, I thought it would be prudent to pass this along to my fellow GAS addicts. Read and learn:

Dear Seller,
I am writing to ask you to please cancel this purchase. My husband who has no experience (or business in my opinion) on ebay was tooling around on our shared computer and apparently mistakenly bought this guitar. Because I was already logged into eBay earlier that day, he met no resistance and says since he didn’t have to enter a credit card he thought it was like Amazon and he could just “look around”. I know, I know….. It doesn’t make sense to me either. But I do know the man reads nothing so it could happen.

Anyway… So, since this purchase is attached to me and not him and since I will be made to suffer with the bad rating and possibly getting kicked off eBay – which would make me very sad – I am hoping you will be kind to us.
Believe me he is being made to pay for this at home. So please put an end to his suffering and let me out of this purchase. I appeal to you kind person?. Please! Sincerely, (name deleted)

So there you go folks. Yes, we cancelled the order but something tells me this man won’t see the end to his suffering anytime soon.

Remeber, be careful out there.

Although you can hardly blame the guy, he was after one of these:

The Classic 12 (12-string) guitar from Eastwood Guitars

The Classic 12 (12-string) guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Guitar Assessment Checklist

I have a friend with a cool little music store here in St. Louis. I pop in from time to time since he always has a great selection of vintage lap steels, as well as an ever-changing assortment of oddball pieces to check out. As I was on my way out the door after one of my most recent visits, I spotted an early 80s Harmony “Flying V,” and immediately stopped in my tracks. The guitar had no price tag, and as I picked it up for a closer look, my friend told me to make him an offer. I was pretty interested in the guitar, so I quickly went through the complete assessment checklist I use when I’m considering buying a used piece. Following are the things I look for to determine whether a used guitar can be made playable, or if it’s destined to spend the rest of its days as wall art.

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Usually, if you’re interested in a piece, the seller is nearby, carefully watching as you look it over…game on. The first thing you need to do is calm down. I have purchased more than one instrument that turned out to be a big old can of worms simply because of my initial eagerness to take it home. I have since learned to put that excitement on hold until I can really check it out, and know exactly what I’m dealing with.

Starting from the top and working my way down, I give the guitar a general inspection. I’m looking for cracks, dings, dents, signs of impact (has the guitar been dropped?), or any broken pieces. I will look especially closely at the headstock area for signs of a repaired break.

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

I’ll then turn my attention to the tuning gears. The “V” I was looking at had one tuning gear that looked crooked at first glance. Upon further investigation, I found that the gear was not an exact match, and that one of the mounting screws was missing. These were cheap, dust covered, geared tuners, so I figured they would most likely be replaced anyway…not a deal breaker.

I also noticed that all of the pickup ring screws were rusted. Rusted screws can equal more shop time trying to get things apart, so be sure to consider the possibility of having to extract broken or stripped screws.

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Once I determined that, aside from some rusty screws and a mismatched tuner, the “V” was in good shape, I started step two of the inspection…the nut. I have found that on guitars like this, the nut can be anything from rough to absurd. With this particular instrument, the latter was the case. This nut was an ugly yellow material, with huge string slots that were filed way too deep, and someone had cut up business cards to use as shim stock underneath. With most used guitar purchases, I’ll typically fabricate a new bone nut anyway, so this wasn’t a deterrent for me, and it even made a nice bargaining tool.

Next on the checklist come the neck and the frets. This is usually the make-or-break point for me when deciding whether or not to buy. I will start by sighting the neck, on both the bass and treble sides, for bow and possible twist in the neck. Too much bow or back bow may be correctable with a truss rod adjustment, or even a heat pressing if necessary, but twisted necks can be more complicated. When I sight the neck, I look straight down the edge where the frets end. I look at it as a continuous plane, all the way to the bridge. I can see back bow, forward bow, and I can spot unlevel frets. The “V” in question had a surprisingly straight neck, with fairly level frets…score!

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

Vintage 1980's Harmony Flying V Electric Guitar

After determining that the neck itself is in good working order, I’ll look carefully at the neck joint, where the neck meets the body. If the guitar has a set neck, I check the area for cracks or previous repairs. The “V” had a bolt-on neck, which I prefer so that I can shim the neck if necessary to get a proper neck angle. I’ll usually push back and forth a little on the neck to make sure there is no movement. Neck movement can mean loose mounting screws, which will cause tuning problems. Side note: if you haven’t checked your neck mounting screws in a while, you should. Necks can work loose over time and cause problems.

At this point, I take a good look at the body, bridge, controls, and general set-up of the instrument. I’m looking for more rusted screws and parts that may cause problems later, when I do a set-up. For example, bridge saddles can seize up over time, no longer allowing for height or intonation adjustments. While checking the set-up, be sure to check the height of the bridge and individual saddles to determine if the guitar has simply been set up poorly, or if a bigger problem, such as a bad neck set, is present.

My final step in evaluating a used guitar includes plugging it in and playing every note on every fret, to see if I get any buzzing or rattling caused by unlevel frets. I want each note to be clear and in tune. I also check the pots and switches for noise or malfunction. I don’t usually get too bent out of shape with bad electronics, because I will usually upgrade the switch, pots, and sometimes the pickups to a better quality part. This is an area where I usually find that the cheapest products have been used, and a little investment in better electronics can go a long way.

Once I’ve decided what needs to be fixed or replaced, I can begin the bargaining process. My checklist for the “V” revealed a bad tuner, rusty screws, some wonky electronics, and a nut that needed to be replaced. With a bit of haggling, the guitar was mine at a killer price.

I quickly made a new nut, replaced the pots, switch, and jack, and found a Fralin P-92 humbucker to put in the bridge position. After just a few hours of work, I had a killer new “Flying V.” I even had it up and running in time for my wife to play at a show the next night. Looks like I may have to find another one of my own sometime soon.

Happy hunting!

– Dave Anderson

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Wandre Doris Guitar

Wandre guitars are coveted by a very small group of people, but those who do are crazy about them. In 2002 I was not one of those people Now, almost ten years later, I can certainly raise my hand and be counted in the crowd. How big is the crowd? That is an interesting question. I think for every vintage Fender fan there are… wait, for every 200,000 Fender fans, there may be one of us. Then again, probably for every 20 million Fender fans might be more accurate.

Antony Wandre Pioli made guitars from the late 1950’s through the 1960’s. His claim to fame was an aluminum neck, but the attraction to most of us was the crazy body shapes. The guitars were musical sculptures, works of art. But this is not a story about his history – you can read about him on the internet – it is a story about how I came to become a Wandre junkie.

So as to best of my memory in late 2002, I found a curious guitar on EBAY that nobody seems to be paying any attention to – a Wandre Doris. “What the hell is that thing?”, was my first thought. 30 seconds later I’m thinking,.. “damn, I gotta have it”. It is an inexplicable phenomena that guitar buyers go through, but we’ve all experienced it. So I contact the seller, make him an offer (at the time I was cursing myself for spending so much) and we arrive at a deal. Two weeks later I get this beauty in the mail:

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Vintage 1960's Wandre Doris Electric Guitar (Green)

Wow. What a cool, fragile, ridiculously lightweight, spectacular, completely individual, personal, like-no-other-guitar-I-have-ever-held, sexy body shaped, weird?, big switched, comfortable, cozy, guitar. It was a piece of art… I mean a guitar. No, art. Whatever. I was hooked. Can you tell?

My first reaction was to tell everyone I know about this fantastic discovery! How did that work out? Kind of like telling everyone you know in grade seven that liver and onions is the best food on the planet. I started thinking the guy who sold it to me is telling everyone he knows that Mike at www.myrareguitars.com thinks liver and onions is the best food on the planet.

But fear not, I simply loved that thing. So much so that I photographed it from every angle and did some detailed drawings (yes, in my earlier years I was a draftsman, although that name sounds odd these days) so that I could catalog it for future use. Which I did in 2006 when we released the EASTWOOD Wandre to great fanfare.

However, back to the story of this specific guitar. There I was in my office about a year later when one evening the phone rang. “Hi, I see you have a Wandre Doris on your website”, said the caller. “Yep, cool isn’t she?”, said I. It was not for sale. I did not have a price on it, just listed on the 1960’s guitars pages that I’d been updating for reference. “I’d like to buy it”, said the predator. For the next 30 minutes we had a great chat about our guitar collections, how much we loved collecting guitars, where we both lived, families, friends, and all things that guitar fans have in common.

One of the great things about this job is you meet people every day that share your passion for guitars. This guy was one of those people. Yet he was a persistent fellow. “How much did you pay for it?”, he asked. I told him. “Can I offer you three times what you paid for it?”. I think, “WTF?” to myself. “no, I love this thing, really don’t want to sell it”. So we chat for another 15 minutes about other guitar stuff, then he says, “I’m thinking you’d be pretty stupid to refuse five times what you paid for it”. And of course I reply, “I’m not that stupid”. or something like that. Thirty seconds later my email pops up with a message, “You’ve Got Money” from PAYPAL.

Yes, it is in the amount of five times what I paid for it… plus shipping.

The next morning it got filed under THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY.

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: 1959 Fender Musicmaster

As most of you know I’ve been running www.myrareguitars.com since about 1997. Before that I was doing it with pen and paper. Recently I discovered a file folder on my backup drive with TONS of photos containing just about every guitar I’d ever bought and sold over the years. Looking at these photos have stirred up some memories. So, here are some stories and photos (to the best of my deteriorating memory) from the Back Catalog of myRareGuitars.

Story #1- 1959 Fender Musicmaster

This was perhaps one of the first vintage Fender guitars I ever owned. Got it in a trade in the early 1990’s eBay days from a fella in Texas. I was living in California at the time. Can’t remember what the trade was, but for my own sanity I’m convinced I got the better of the deal. I’m sure the guy on the other end feels the same way. That’s a good trade – when both parties are happy – and in fact I think we did a few more deals over the years so such is the case.

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

Vintage 1959 Fender Musicmaster Electric Guitar

I instantly fell in love with this guitar – so tiny, so playable, and it was made the year I was born, 1959. Shortly after I got it, my wife and I were invited to a friends house down in Mexico for a weeklong vacation with three other couple. Why not take that old Fender?! It will fit in the airline overhead for sure! One of the other guys along for the trip – Ben Goldman – was a talented guitar player/singer and each night stirred up a sing-a-long around the fire, so I would bring out the little Musicmaster to add some accompaniment. Somewhere along the way, Ben went out to a local shop and came back with one of those massive acoustic Mexican guitars – I think it is called a Guitarron – without much thought we all ended up at the airport a few days later with no case for this beast. He ended up wrapping it in all his families clothing, then duct tape, to get it on the plane back to California. Nothing phased Ben, he was a cool guy is sadly missed by all who knew him.

The Guitarron

The Guitarron

That old Fender was such a curious and cool piece of wood and wire. But, there was a problem.

Everyone I showed it to would eventually say, “what is up with that glob of gold shit on the body?”. At first it did not bother me, but a sticker that some kid put on it 40 years earlier had become fused with the finish, impossible to remove. Becoming self conscious about it, I took it to the local luthier for his opinion and to get that damn sticker removed. “We can refinish the guitar, but then it will be worth half as much as it is now, and you will have twice as much money into it”. Lesson learned.

Pretty cool guitar, but I sold it, and as always in cases like this, it got filed under THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY.

Lost Gear Therapy

I’ve already done a column about all the great equipment I lost in my drunken stupid years (as opposed to my current sober stupid years). It was, in its own way, a fun piece to write…a catalog and inventory of all the VERY cool guitar stuff (guitars, amps, pedals and so on) I let go for gas money, drug money, and/or stuff I left in apartments I wasn’t allowed to return back to either by landlords, ex-girlfriends, or sheriff’s departments up and down the east coast.

A legacy of my idiocy.

What’s strange is that it’s probably the column I have received the most mail on. People from all over the world wrote me about equipment they’d lost and the interesting ways they lost their stuff. They were all GREAT letters. Sad yet entertaining. We all had a story or two or twenty. It was like a gear geek AA meeting. ‘My name is so and so and I lost a FILL IN THE BLANK.’

If you put us in a room, I’m sure we’d wince at the equipment and the amazingly low price our brothers and sisters lost it for. We’d hug each other and pat backs and shake heads and bond over how dumb we could be. (Maybe we SHOULD start a ‘lost gear’ support group.)

The funny thing is, while I can go on and on about great gear I’ve lost, I rarely tell the stories of how lucky I am to have the gear I do have (especially now that I don’t sell AC30’s for a zip lock bag with what are SUPPOSED TO BE 20 Percocets!!! It’s bad enough to be dumb…but to be dumb and ripped off…wow.) But people who trade AC 30’s for disguised stool softener pills get what they deserve, I suppose. But back to the topic at hand: Lost cool gear.

Until VERY recently, I had a fond memory for this very cool multi-effects unit I bought at a yard sale back in the early 80’s in Connecticut. For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘yard sale,’ it’s the same as a ‘tag sale’ or a ‘garage sale’ depending on where you live. It is a low rent estate sale. Without the dead people and with crappier stuff, mostly.

The thing I bought (and I had NO idea or memory what it was called) was about the size of a small suitcase. It had a handle on top and the case was a sort of brushed aluminum. When you set it down and touched a button on the top, one side of it opened to a floorboard with what looked like a wah-wah or volume pedal in the middle and three or four mushroom cloud-looking foot buttons that would turn various effects on and off. When plugged in, it had SEVERAL cool clear switches that looked like clear light switches with a wild array of colors shining through the control panel.

It looked like something out of the original Star Trek series and it was 10 bucks and I bought it.

And for the next 7-8 years, whenever another guitar player came to my house or apartment, I would show him or her this ridiculous box (Named ‘the box’ by me) I had that made a series of astounding (and yet pretty unusable) noises all while shining various great colors in the dark.

One of my friends and mine’s favorite applications for this thing was to take a hit of acid, turn the lights out and play this thing as loud as possible through my mid 70’s Twin Reverb (sold, as I recall, for 100 bucks in gas money in the late 80’s…’arrrrghhhh!’ as Charlie Brown would say). We’d rotate…the unlucky people would play bass or drums…the lucky one in the rotation got to play the light-up suitcase with all the lights and weird noises. Ah, ‘the box.’

Then, I feel deep under the influence of Glen Branca and a guitar player named Glenn Phillips, best known as the guitar player for the obscure Hampton Grease Band. By the 80’s, however, he was deep into his solo career (he still plays…catch him if you can) as one of the oddest, most wonderful and interesting instrumental rock musicians. His album Razor Pocket is one of the truly great instrumental rock guitar albums. FIND IT, if you care about great guitar players. Someone at ‘Guitar Player’ in those days dubbed him ‘Mahavishnu Johnny Ramone’ which is actually kind of accurate. His has the chops and improvisational skills of a Jazz horn player, with the energy and velocity of a raging punk guitar player. A proto Nels Cline. He’s astounding. Find Razor Pocket or any of his other solo outings. He has the rare gift of writing catchy, melodic guitar instrumentals with monster chops and cool noises.

Anyway, I had fallen deeply under the spell of great guitar noisemakers. So, I started using ‘the box’ in a new band, at gigs, not just at acid parties at the apartment. During free form noise shows with my ‘art’ punk band of the time, I would use ‘the box’ and I now realized it had SEVERAL usable noises and settings. It had a VERY weird and thin sounding fuzz-type effect that would cause huge, annoying overtones and octaves and harmonic swirls when turned up (and we were nothing, if not VERY turned up, volume wise). We had another ‘guitar’ player who would tune all his strings to one note and repeatedly drop his guitar for his ‘solo’. It was a happening, man. ‘The box’ also had a sort of tremolo effect. A pulsing noise to add to the Fizzle effect. And then there was this odd filter/compression sound. When they were all on together, along with a Big Muff and the amps on 10…well, it sort of didn’t matter what you played note-wise, as the whole guitar was swallowed by these effects that would create this Niagara Falls of noise that just took your body over—it wasn’t really music, but it was astoundingly inside you when ‘the box’ really got going.

After that band was banned from most clubs in Boston, I moved, and ‘the box’ was retired as I played in more conventional bands. And all I know is, years later, I don’t have it. I may have given it away. I may have left it in an apartment when I moved. I may have sold it for a few bucks. But, by the time I was sober and had moved west, ‘the box’ was a thing of my past.

I really had nothing but fond memories for this weird effect until very recently, when I was reading Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects. It’s a great book—one, along with Dave Hunter’s Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook that any fan of effects should check out.

However there is one terrible thing about Analog Man’s book. One horrifying, crappy, sad, awful thing about the book.

What is this terrible thing about the Analog Man book?

It identified ‘the box’ for me. There were two pictures, so that I could point to it and tell my wife, ‘That’s IT. That’s THE BOX!’ While she nodded patiently at my insanity with what seemed to me to be not nearly enough interest.

1970 Ludwig Phase II Guitar Synthesizer

1970 Ludwig Phase II Guitar Synthesizer

It turns out ‘the box’ was a Ludwig Phase II Synthesizer. The tremolo effect was called ‘Animation.’ The weird filter thing was called ‘Formant Trajectories.’ The fuzz was, well, fuzz. There are 4 sliders on the top, four mushroom cloud foot switches. A pedal for wah-esque effects. And seven light up switches on the top.

So, what’s so terrible about this news? Knowledge is good, no? Well, no, it turns out. Not this time, anyway.

I learned they go for 3-4 THOUSAND dollars on eBay. Not a misprint. Three to four thousand dollars. The box was cool. VERY cool. But it was not a 4 thousand dollar effect (I don’t know if I think there is such a thing…well, I believe there is such a thing when I’m selling, but not when I’m buying).

But, I keep trying to remind myself, if I hadn’t lost it in whatever forgettable way it was that I lost it, I would probably have lost it in such a really stupid way that I would have regretted it every day of my life and all I would have to show for it would be a column about how dumb I was that I lost ‘the box.’

A Baker’s Dozen Tips: Recording Guitars & Basses (Part 1)

I have been recording since 1980, mostly in home studios. And just for the record I will give you an idea of what was in my first few home studios, it was no digital 8 track the size of a paperback novel.

My first home recording set up was an Akai ¼ inch 2 track and a Harmon Kardon cassette deck, no EQ, the only effects I had were a few effects pedals. I would program one of my primitive drum machines or use a factory preset non-programmable rhythm machine while I was recording that I would usually add my bass or rhythm guitar. And after a suitable take I would ping pong the tracks back and forth from the 2 track to the cassette, adding effects on the fly.

My next home recording rig was a Teac 3340 4 track with a Biamp 6 channel board with internal spring reverb and a stereo 10 band graphic equalizer. Boy that was the real deal.

I did learn a lot about recording guitars and basses from my home recoding experience and also from listening to my favorite records too. So here is my top ten tips on recording guitars and basses.

BTW please send me some of your first home recording Frankenstein laboratory creations, I would love to hear them.

#1: Use chord fragments instead of whole chords

Like a good B-3 player who uses two or three fingers, your chords and their voicings should be well thought out and economical. Try not to use roots or fifths unless the fifth is an altered fifth like a flat 5 or augmented 5th. Analyze the melody notes and try not to crowd them with notes that proximate in the same octave i.e. if your melody note is a root middle C and you want to use the 9th in the chord use one either an octave higher or lower..

The whole idea here is to give room for the other instruments or just to open up the music and let the notes you leave out be implied as opposed to being heard, it’s an interesting concept check it out!

#2: Utilize ghost tracks when recording bass guitar

This is a very useful technique when you want to change the texture of your bass track, without changing the integrity of the original. First you will need to clone the track, once you have done that clone it a second time. Now you should have three tracks, eq the first clone track very bassy and cut all the highs. Now do the opposite to the second clone track, eq it high and cut the lows. Now instead of changing the original track you can just add the clones to your taste.

A few pointers on this technique, first I think you should electronically clone the tracks and not shadow them by recording another bass track (that is an entire different idea). Now when eq-ing your clones try to do it while playing it alongside your original track, that will give you a better picture of where to go with the eq.

#3: Have a guitar strung up to Nashville tuning.

Nashville tuning for those not familiar with it is a six string guitar tuned with standard first three strings and the next three tuned up an octave. It’s like a twelve string without the low strings, pretty cool idea. They call it Nashville tuning because that’s where it started in the studios in Nashville. You can’t play lead with it, or accompany with it alone, but where it comes into play is adding it to a track where you want to add a highlight to your track. A twelve string will sound a bit muddy in comparison. Try some alternative voicings, and work it in and out of the mix.

Prepare yourself to adjust the truss rod as this tuning puts almost no tension on the neck.

#4: Use stereo delays to fatten up rhythm guitar parts.

This is a method I have used for years, I especially like using the stereo delays on funky or single note rhythm parts. I will usually use a delay of 75ms to 150ms, panned hard left or right. The dry guitar panned one way the wet guitar panned the other way. This effect also works well on ½ note and ¼ note parts, like reggae-type feels.

You can also open up the delays for melody parts. What I like to do is set my time delays immediately when I record. I do this by counting the beats per minute and setting the delays accordingly. So if yourBPM’s are 105 I would set my delays at 210ms, 420ms and 840ms and use and combine them to taste.

One suggestion is to get a feel for it when you bring up your tracks, but I really start to get creative when it comes to the mix. Make it sound big, and don’t be afraid to get buck wild!

#5: Bass players use those flatwounds dammit!!!

Yes Mr. Bassman start recording with flatwounds and hear the magic. Don’t forget that drums record better when they are muffled (ask Ringo) and don’t decay, well boys sorry to tell you that unless you are playing Stanley Clarke style fusion your bass should not be sustaining all over the place. All it does is make the track feel real loose. Studio bass legend Joe Osborne recorded hundreds of sessions in the 60’s with the same set of “dead” strings for over four years! And when he did change them, he had to fish the dead ones out of the trash.

All your favorite James Jameson / Jerry Jemmot records of the 60’s were also recorded with flatwounds. Just try it!

#6: Always record a direct sound on a separate track

Whether you are recording through a POD or miking up your favorite amp, having the track recorded along side direct will always be a plus. You may never use it or just bleed it in, but you will feel better just knowing its there. The other plus is you can always “reamp” it by feeding the dry track through any device or by using a device such as a Reamp which allows you to run a recorded track back through an amp after the fact.

That’s the first part of this column – and remember, that you do not need a 24 track studio to create great music, you need go concise ideas and tons of overdubs and other filler. Reminder, Sgt Pepper recorded on a four track, Blizzard of Oz, 8 track, Uncle Meat a 3 track, all the early Motown hits two 2 tracks in sync, Dark Side of the Moon, 8 track – ..see a pattern developing?…..Part 2 next month.


Joey Leone

P.S. Mike Robinson and I have been working on some custom designs – the first is the Joey Leone Signature Model – for the past 18 months. We are getting close to the release date and will have some information available in the next newsletter. In the meantime, drop me an EMAIL and I can fill you in on some preliminary information. Here are some sneak peaks at the prototype.

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

That Is Not My Guitar Until It Is Setup To My Specifications

Hello there in guitar land, thank you all for your comments and feedback to my column and to the WEBCAST hosted by Eastwood guitars.

This month I will be discussing a much overlooked aspect of guitar playing and appreciation, the professional setup. As I always say – this is not MY Guitar until it is setup to my specifications. I think perhaps 90% of today’s guitar players do NOT have a personal guitar repair technician that they work with. People have a favorite video / music store with a favorite clerk that helps them with selections, a tailor, a banker, a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer… yet they don’t have a favorite guitar tech. Why? Here are three scenarios that will exemplify this point.

Scenario #1: My Seagull sounds better then my Martin!

How many times have I heard this story, “I bought this cheap guitar at a local music store for $200 bucks, and it really needed a good setup and strings, and afterwards it sounded amazing!” The truth is that this is no urban legend – the professional setup is the real deal – and can make a decent guitar play and sound very good and sometimes even great. This is true for electrics and acoustics equally, although the most obvious is the acoustic as they are usually more prone to neck and body adjustments due to heat and humidity (or lack thereof). But, the electric guitar also needs a good setup as well.

Scenario #2: Music store guitars.

In my 30+ years of perusing music stores I have rarely entered a music store where the guitars were maintained w/ fresh strings and a good setup. As a matter of fact they are rarely even in tune to concert pitch (A440). I know – the profit margin, the man hours, blah, blah, blah – the truth is Mr. Music Store owner you will sell more guitars if they are maintained. Truth be told unless you are talking about a high end guitar shop where they have to sell guitars to pay the rent, guitars are usually hung up on the wall and expected to sell themselves.

So if you are really interested in buying a guitar in a music store, ask them to restring it and set it up for you. I mean don’t be an idiot and jerk the guy around for no reason, but you should know what it sounds like before you buy it. For a guitar under $1,000? Probably not. But for something more expensive, you bet.

For all you vintage guys out there how many times have you picked up that prehistoric Strat and were disappointed with how it played, knowing full well that it probably has been sitting for a long time without the benefit of some needed tweaking. Most dealers will say, “dude I left it as I found it” like that is a favor to you, how convenient! It’s really a disservice to those who’ll plunk down 20 G’s for a piece of guitar history, because these fellas know as well as we know, that just because it was made 50 years ago don’t mean it’s a good guitar, and the only way to know is? You guessed it, if it’s setup professionally.

Scenario #3: Online Purchases.

Online mega stores, Ebay auctions, direct sales, mom and pop sellers, third party sellers, yes my friends this is where a majority of guitar and guitar related commerce is done, online.

I must confess that I was one of those “I ain’t buying what I can’t play” guys. The idea of paying for a guitar that I had not seen gave me chills, and even more frightening to this paranoid guitar buyer was the fact that I was buying one of many guitars in that model that they had in stock. Who was going to pick the one I was getting? Beavis or Butthead? Or what does “very good condition” mean? Now we deal with words like “vibe” “correct” and “players” guitar – and are supposed to know what that means. I know what new means, it means new! I know what a demo is, it’s a demo! Alas, now I have learned how to buy guitars that I cannot play, one way is to buy from someone who is reputable and has a track record. Another is to buy what you know, a 1970 ES 335 (if it has no issues) is a 1970 ES 335, you will pay for it, and 99 times out of 100 get what you expect (from a reputable dealer or seller).

BUT… Now please my friends, pay attention here because this is the gospel as I know it. Never take a guitar out of a box after it has been shipped to you, and expect it to play right. To me that’s an unreasonable expectation. You buy a guitar on the merit of its sound, playability and pedigree (where and who it comes from). Like I said earlier, you can’t expect the store owner to take a lower cost guitar, re-string it and setup to your specifications, just for you to try it out. All players have different ideas about string gauges and low action etc, etc. That is why you need to find your own local technician, who will begin to understand your personal preferences and expectations. These guys can make a $500 guitar play like a $5000 guitar, and the more they know about you the better a job they can do for you. So, as soon as you get your guitar, inspect it for shipping damage and for flaws. As far as flaws are concerned, be reasonable, as far as I am concerned my expectations on a guitars fit and finish are directly related to its price.

Here is what I believe are the necessary parts of a good setup:

  • A neck adjustment (if needed)
  • Intonation
  • Action adjustment
  • Fret work (leveling if needed)
  • Pickup balancing
  • Nut filing (a way underrated aspect of tuning issues)
  • New strings
  • Cleaning scratchy pots (used guitars)

These tasks should be done by a qualified guitar repairman. You should have a local guy who knows your likes and dislikes. I personally like a flat neck adjustment with almost no bow and a higher action then most would like. You have your own expectations for a setup, communicate these to your local repairman and than enjoy your guitar.

Guitar Tech Setting Up a Guitar

Guitar Tech Setting Up a Guitar

I will say again – any guitar I own is not truly mine until it is setup to my specifications.

So in closing my friends I respectfully say don’t decide whether a guitar is a good guitar or not until it is setup professionally.

So many guitars, so little time.

Making a Guitar Living

I’ve been earning a living with my guitars now for thirty odd years. I did a stint as a commercial artist for a couple of years when I finished high school — I say commercial artist, what I mean is I worked in a commercial art studio learning the ins and outs — but after a couple of guitar playing jobs I decided to focus on music as a career. I could earn more in a couple of nights playing than in a week of the day job.

My first job was playing instrumental acoustic guitar at the Sir Winston Churchill Pub in Montreal. I used to arrange popular tunes for nylon string guitar, my most ambitious effort was a finger style rendition of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, which had just been released.

Anyone who has a flair for the guitar and decides to embark on a career of playing naturally aspires to be someone who sells millions of records and tours the World. Like Mark Knopffler or Eric Clapton or Santana. We’d all like to be household names. The reality, of course, is that very few achieve that level of success. Apart from being a stand out player, many factors come into the recipe, not the least of which is luck. To be at the right place at the right time is often the bottom line.

For most of us, earning a living from our instruments is a hard row to hoe. The main factor I think is to keep all options open, don’t be precious about your music and always keep a professional attitude.

There are several ways to generate money as a guitarist. I try to keep them ticking over at all times.

The most straight forward way is performing, getting paid to play your music to an audience. It’s often the most satisfying way too, especially if you’re doing your own thing, either solo, or in your own band. When all else is falling apart around you, there is usually some place to play, even if it means busking, which down here means playing in a public place. I live near a place called Byron Bay, famous for it’s surf and blues festival, where players come and stand in the street with their guitar cases open for people to throw money in. A dear friend of mine down there is in his sixties and still does it, and does well at it.

The other form of performing involves hiring yourself out as a freelance guitarist for other bands. I am presently playing in five different line ups. Two of mine, MumboGumbo and The Train; I play in David Bentley’s Blues Revue, where keyboardist David is the front man; I play with Elizabeth Lord, a country / blues band; I play with Ted Tillbrook, who has moved away for a while. Juggling dates can be difficult, but it always seems to work out. They know that my priority is my music, and if I can’t make a show, they have a couple other players they can call.

If you’re proficient enough as a player, and you have the right attitude, you can hire yourself out as a session guitarist. Times have changed and technology has done a lot of musicians out of this kind of work, but guitars (especially acoustic) still can’t be synthesized. Thank goodness.

There are a couple sub-categories here, namely commercials (TV or radio) and album tracks. Both require a certain kind of player. You must be able to cover a few different styles to do well, especially in the jingle world. Reading helps, but is not essential. You must be very professional and follow directions. Often the producer will ask you to play something you think stinks or doesn’t fit. A polite suggestion of an alternative is OK, but don’t insist. You may not be aware of what is going to be overdubbed later on, or what the singer’s part is. Punctuality and good equipment is a must. Guitars with poor intonation or amps that buzz are not appreciated when the clock is ticking.

Finally, if you get to the point where you know more about playing than most, you can become a teacher. Not the most lucrative way of earning a guitar living, but one that will allow you to lead a more normal life, get to bed earlier. A way that’s probably more consistent and reliable. I know people here who have dozens of private students and also teach regularly at schools and colleges.

If you’re that way inclined, you can do quite well as a repairer. My old pal Seymour Duncan who I knew in London in ’73 or so, was the guy who set my Strat up at Fender Sound House, where he worked as the tech. He sure went on to bigger and better things. There is a guy here in Brisbane I have yet to meet, Chris Kinman, who makes pickups that are sought after the world over. He’s doing OK.

I’d say the most important element in all the above is to maintain a professional attitude. Musicians are often seen as vague, lazy, stoned, unreliable, probably alcoholic. You’ll often be treated like someone who doesn’t really care about money, who just wants to get out of it and play music. To counter this perception, you almost have to be overly accommodating. I don’t mean grovel, but I mean be straight, punctual, civil, reliable. Make sure the money is talked about and settled early in the piece. Get it on paper.

Or you could be a chef or a stock broker…

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

The Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

It was late 1969 early 1970. I was 13 years old and had been learning guitar for about a year when I was given what I considered to be the key to a world of freedom. Mum & Dad said it was ok for me to setup my room in a shed inside Dad’s garage. The shed was the size of a small bedroom, about eight by ten in the old measurements. It was originally built from scraps of recycled building material from a 100 year old house and was initially used as a tool shed.

Why would anyone want to live in a garage? Well the answer was easy. Up until that point I was sharing a bedroom with my elder brother, who was learning drums. My brother is two years older, and at that time size and age counted when disputes occurred. We had bunk beds with slide out desk draws that met at the invisible but well defined halfway mark between our beds. Go over that mark and I’d find my possessions dumped on the bedroom floor.

There was one item that lived in the DMZ between our beds; a Crystal Radio Set Dad had made for us. I grew up with the music of the late 60’s penetrating my brain like a form of sleep learning. Years of POP music entering my subconscious head every night because more often than not I would fall asleep with the ear plug jammed in my ear. I remember so many songs from those years. Tunes like Telstar became engraved into my musical soul. It’s true, being exposed to POP Music at an early age can affect young guitar players for the rest of their life.

Dad’s garage was big enough to fit eight cars. My room, inside the garage, was big enough for the bunk bed and a chair and a set of drawers and my guitars. There was no room to swing a cat. I had two guitars at that time. My first guitar, a Maton F10 Classical guitar and an Electric Japanese Strat copy, an Esquire. I saw the Esquire in the shop window of a now long gone Melbourne music store named Sutton’s. I used to stare at it every Saturday, before and after my guitar lessons – until I had saved enough money to buy it. $79.00 well spent. I still have both guitars – 37 years later.

For about two years – I practiced in my room, the tool shed – using my Mum’s old Bakelite Radio as my practice amp for the Esquire. I had to practice in the room – because the guitar lead I had was only 5 feet long. By working as a delivery boy for a pharmacy – I was able to save up enough money to purchase my first real guitar amp [and a long coily cable guitar lead, which let me stand outside my room and in the Garage].

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

The day came when I went by train to pick up that first real amplifier – a Vox AC 30 from the famous Australian guitar Luthier, Merv Cargill.

All the way to Seaford and met Merv in his garage [I liked the fact that we both spent a lot of time in the garage involved with guitars], paid the huge sum of $250 [they’re worth 10 times that now] and then lugged the amp – by hand, back to the train station, then all the way home. My house was at least a couple of miles from the nearest train station. I can remember to this day the pain in my arms of hauling the amp by hand all the way home, we only had one car and Dad was at work. I was certain my arms had been stretched at least a couple of inches by the time I got home and wondered whether I had done any permanent damage.

We all know the smell that a new car has – guitar amps have a unique smell too – Tolex covering a wood cabinet, warmed by heat generated from valves. Turning on the Vox AC30 was almost a ritual, a religious experience. Knowing that what was about to happen was like expecting the arrival of the messiah’s voice box. Volume & TONE. Guitar & Amp.

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Teenage dreams fulfilled by the sound created by an electric guitar. Reverb. Tremolo. Guitarists know what this means. The ability to traverse all boundaries, to “go where no one has gone before” play an electric guitar – you’ll arrive at that place on the playing of the first note, in the relative comfort of your bedroom or as in my case my bedroom in the garage.

So there I stood, guitar in hand, my face turned to the opening of the garage – which, coincidentally for all the Led Zeppelin fans, looked to the West. There was no door on the garage. It was too big and Dad couldn’t afford a door so the gate on the property’s side fence was the barrier between me and the world outside. The gate was only five feet high, so anyone tall enough walking past could still see over.

To me – those passers by were my first audience. Whenever anyone walked past, I’d be sure to try and play something tuneful and not make any mistakes. Through many a summer’s day I played guitar from inside the garage and looked the West and pretended and believed that I was performing to an audience, from a stage. An amphitheatre filled the sound of an electric guitar and bathed in the sunbeams of the after school sunlight. I didn’t have to go to Church I was there every day. All I had to do was plug in, turn on and play guitar.

Often, I played like there was someone listening. Mostly, no one was. It was enlightening to find out that my neighbors, an Italian family directly across from the garage, was listening occasionally and the mother did make comment that they could hear me playing my tunes and how I sounded ok and seemed to be improving. Acceptance of my efforts I thought.

They had a daughter who I tried to impress with my playing but Italian girls, who had strict parents, were hard to impress safely with the sounds of a guitar in the early 70’s. This challenge to impress, to gain acceptance, made me strive to play even better.

I played like it was a live performance being recorded for posterity.

Everything was improvised – sounds, tones and composition were more important than playing note for note tunes of songs of the day. Creating a tonal landscape was the daily quest. Getting lost in the vibrations of sounds created was more significant than anything else at the time.

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Teenagers spend most of there teenage years developing the personality traits that will guide what happens to them through young adulthood and even middle age and older. So for a teenage boy possessed by the sound that a guitar makes, a sound which to a teenager has some kind of magical powers that enhance the experience of growing up and finding his place in the world, playing guitar in that garage gave me the base from which many of my life’s experiences grew from.

Trying to re-create and emulate the sounds and songs of the guitarists and bands, popular at the time was important of course. If you played a popular riff or even strummed the chords of a popular song of the day, you became something other than a non-entity. Hero status might be carrying it a bit too far – but I did notice that the better I played those riffs the more localized fame I achieved. Girls noticed me if I played a song they liked. Boys were impressed if you played songs they liked. Go to a party and take your guitar, you were, for a brief part of the evening the centre of attention. How long depended on your repertoire of songs and how well you played them. By the time I was playing in a band regularly I had developed a reasonable list of tunes and could play most of the popular songs, so the guitar was good for improving social standing too!

Being a Garage Guitarist was the basis of this guitar player’s journey. I encourage all guitarists, beginners and advanced to enjoy some time in your own garage or someone else’s if you don’t have one. Play alone, play with fellow musicians – soak up the sounds and play every note like it was your finest performance to the audience just outside the door. Be inspired by whatever sounds you create. Write down the words, record the sounds. Who knows what may happen.

One thing is certain you will have created a lifetime experience that will give you wonderful guitar playing memories to re-visit as the years go by. The glory days are from today onwards so pick up your guitar and go play, live today, play today, start creating your yesterdays so you can relive these creations at the other end of life’s rainbow and look back like I do on those times spent as a Garage Guitarist.

Post by: Ian Carter
Ian is the owner of www.icguitars.com our “Dealer Down Under”
Copyright by Ian Carter 2006