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1987 Casio DG-20 Digital Guitar

By Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

Blame it on disco.  I remember it well…as an observer, of course!  The excesses of early ‘70s hard rock inspired a vapid dance craze reaction toward the end of the decade with mirror balls and platform shoes and, well, you know, Studio 54, glitter spandex, and Donna Summer and all that.  The music was mostly played with keyboard synths and drum machines, fairly new technology at the time.  The guitar press predicted: It’s The End of guitars as we know it.  But was it really?  (Obviously, we all know the answer to that rhetorical question!)

I didn’t really pay much personal attention to disco.  I didn’t dance and I didn’t hear too many guitar solos to make me interested in listening.  I was working at a commercial classical radio station at the time and my greatest exposure was a somewhat satirical—and as it turned out quite successful, I might add—disco party for key advertisers, for which I had to obtain the music.  I was mildly alarmed by the press predictions regarding the demise of guitars, but I needn’t have worried.

Anyhow, the response of the guitar industry was to try to turn guitars into synth controllers.  Keyboards are ideal synth controllers.  They are immediate and precise.  You hit a key and you get a clear electronic connection that is instantly, easily, and unequivocally recognized by the machine and its software.  They’re perfectly polyphonic.  And once you eliminate the need for anything but the keyboard—no strings, no soundboard, no pipes—they can become quite compact and portable.

Guitars…well, not so much.  A good clean note is obtained with good clean contact between the string and the fret, but you know how often that doesn’t happen!  We bend notes, even when we don’t intend to.  We move our fingers around to put “English” on the tones.  In short, despite the best efforts of brilliant engineers at Roland, Korg, Yamaha and elsewhere, guitars make lousy synth controllers at best.  To play guitar synth you’d best possess pretty darned good technique.

Don’t get me wrong.  I really admire the synth guitars that were created during the period from roughly 1977 to 1987 or so.  But if you want to play some disco, get a keyboard.1987 Casio DG-20

That said, there were some interesting attempts to create a hybrid solution, notably by Casio, like this nifty little 1987 DG-10 Digital Guitar. Okay, I hear you sniggering about this toy guitar.  You might say it doesn’t even look much like a guitar, although, if you recall guitars from the 1980s, you remember there was some weird stuff that was popular, from minimalist headless Steinbergers and Kramer Dukes to Prince’s elaborate guitar sculptures.  All right, I’ll give you that it looks more like a toy than a guitar.

But let’s not focus on what it isn’t, let’s concentrate on what it actually is.  This juicy little “toy” is actually a full-blown amp-in-guitar and MIDI controller.  The fingerboard is a rubber touch pad with, presumably, articulated “frets” with 6 contact points each.  The nylon strings are all like 3rd strings.  Yamaha did this same thing on its synth controller, by the way.  I suspect that’s to equalize the contact using identical string mass.  There’s a built-in battery-powered amp with 4” speaker.

You can play this like a guitar, or guitars.  On top you can choose from 20 preset sounds.  You can add automatic percussion rhythms.  Pick the tempo.  Punch in sustain and reverb, and change the key.  On the front you have an on/off switch, master volume and rhythm volume.  You can mute your guitar, activate or turn off the rhythm sounds, add in some fill.  Oh yes, and there’s a manual drum machine pad if you’re dexterous, with a choice of cymbals, low tom, hi tom, and snare drum sounds.

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And if that’s not enough, you can send the signal out to an external amp.  You can plug in headphones.  Pick two MIDI modes, omni or poly, to coordinate with whatever gear you use.  Plug in a MIDI DIN cable.  And use an AC plug, should you be so inclined.

Yeah, any kid can figure this toy out.  Well, maybe a kid could.  I never got past the amp in guitar with automated drum machine and I hope my life never depends on knowing the difference between omni and poly synths.  Not that I mastered even just playing guitar.  I think I played at a couple of my son’s baseball games, sitting in the bleachers doing “charge” sounds.  But the Casio DG-20, in the right hands, might just be the guitar you need to do disco!

For the record, as it were, I did continue to peruse disco record bins for a few years—disco was LP music, before CDs—and found, to my great surprise and delight, that there actually were some disco disks that featured hot guitar licks!  Metal guitar disco.  Numerous disco-flamenco fusions.  Rasgueado goes great with the turn-around pump of “unh-uhh, unh-uhh, unh-uhh.”  They were never too popular, though.  Blame it on disco.
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Tips on Tones: Issue #20 – Inspiration – Part One

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

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

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

Sense of Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Communication

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Have you ever listened to or overheard a conversation between seasoned
musicians? The phrases, terminology and body language are very different from
non musicians. Depending on what type of musician you are talking to, the words,
lingo and animations vary. For example a conversation between two jazz
performers might sound like this:

That cat can really play in the pocket on Birds up-tempo swing tunes, and I
was digging the groove on the walking bass line.

Rock musicians might sound like this:

The drummer crushed it with those 32nd note fills on the hi hat, and I was down
with the syncopation of the double bass drums on his second solo.

Finally the well trained classical musician who wrote the book on terminology
might sound like this:

Did you notice the strings in perfect unison with the reeds while building a
perfect crescendo at the start of the 2nd ending in the 3rd movement.

There are thousands of musical terms that make communicating easier for musicians.
Today I will show you a few of the basic terms that are built into almost
all styles of music. I will break them down into 5 categories with 3 sub categories.

#1 Parts of a Song

a. Verse – In typical popular music the first set of lyrics would be considered
the 1st verse, and would almost always change going from verse to verse telling the
story.

b. Chorus – Unlike the verse the chorus usually retains the same lyrics and is
often the most memorable part of the song.

c. Bridge – In pop and rock songs, the bridge is a section where the lyrics or
music connect or bridge the verse to the chorus. This is usually done with a
different melody line and with different lyrics.

#2 Style of a Tune

a. Swing – A form of American music developed in the 1930’s which has a
strong rhythmic groove or drive. The emphasis in swing is on the offbeat of the
music.

b. Waltz – In a Jazz context Waltz would be any piece of music written in ¾
time or 3 beats per measure. In classical music it is also played in ¾ time but
traditionally used for ballroom dancing or folk dance.

c. Bossa – Short for Bossa Nova is a genre of Brazilian music made popular
in the 1950’s and 60’s. Bossa has a swaying feel rather than a swinging feel. Bossa
like most Latin based styles of music incorporates a lot of syncopation.

#3 Navigating a Tune

a. Coda – Primarily a term that designates a passage of music to the end of
the tune. The symbol looks like a circle with two lines going through it.

b. D.C al fine – D.C. or (Da Capo) means repeat to beginning of the song, then
to the word fine which means end.

c. Treble Clef – Or G Clef is a sign indicating the pitch of written notes. The
Treble Clef as its name implies, is reserved for instruments that can produce notes
with a higher pitch as opposed to the bass clef designated for lower pitched
instruments.

#4 Dynamics

a. Forte – Is a musical term which means to play loudly at that section of the
music.

b. Decrescendo – Is a sign that looks like this ( >) letting you know that the
music will have a gradual decrease in force or loudness.

c. Fermata – Is a prolonged tone, chord, or rest beyond its indicated time. A
good example would be in the tune Happy Birthday, when you come to the
person’s name it is held for a longer time than the music allows for. Or in the Star
Spangled Banner when you get to the word free.

#5 Tempo

a. Andante – Means in a moderately slow and even tempo. It can also mean
gently or flowing.

b. B.P.M. – Refers to beats per minute which is attached to a number. For
example a song that has 80 bpm is exactly twice as slow than a tune that has 160
bpm in it. Marching band and Disco music usually play songs that uses 120 beats
per minute probably because it is easy to march to and also to dance to.

c. Up – Short for upbeat, is a jazz term indicating that the music should be
played quickly.

Just like most professions there are ways to communicate that are outside of
(normal) conversation. A good example might be the Lingo between Lawyers,
Doctors, and Law Enforcement. Another good example would be wildlife. We
clearly don’t understand the language but they are communicating quite well with
each other.


 

 

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The Origins of The Electric Guitar: Part One

It may seem hypocritical, but in fact, the advancement of the human race would not be possible if it weren’t for laziness. We all have that burning desire to want to accomplish something, but along with that desire comes the inherent need to do it in the simplest, most efficient way possible. Of course it’s not easy to up-and create something from nothing, but it’s the inspiration for many of the world’s greatest inventions that comes from the question “how can I make this easier?”

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Most people shop at grocery stores and go to restaurants to stay fed rather than hunt and grow their own crops. We send e-mails instead of writing letters. Rather than go to a shopping mall to buy everyone’s Christmas gifts, more and more people are opting to sit at their computer and buy everything from an online store. These are all fantastic inventions that are successful for really just one reason: they make things more convenient.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was an inconvenience in the music world that led to the invention of what would eventually become one of the most popular instruments in the world. The problem at the time was that classical, jazz, and blues guitarists were struggling to be heard. Guitar soloists in large groups were almost non-existent, as horns and brass instruments would just blow them away. The guitar was seen as a background rhythm instrument, despite players being more than capable of playing impressive lead melody lines and being heard in smaller groups.

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Some musicians tried to amplify their guitars by attaching different resonant materials to the body, while others experimented with carbon microphones. Their efforts worked to some degree, but the quality of sound suffered drastically. There was a pressing need to accurately make the guitar louder, but the most practical solution to this problem didn’t arrive until 1931.

Many people believe that the first electric guitar was built by Les Paul and dubbed “The Log.” While this was a landmark achievement, it was actually not the first time a guitar was accurately amplified. That credit belongs to George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker, who worked together to create the first usable electric guitar. They worked with an already known phenomena known as  “electromagnetism”, and perfected the use of a device that we all know today as a “pickup”. The device basically works by converting string vibrations into an electrical signal through the use of electromagnets. The signal is then amplified, and released through a speaker as audible sound.guitp

 

Around the same time the jazz and classical guitarists were having difficulty being heard, lap-steel musicians were facing a similar problem. This instrument was to be played as a lead, focusing on the melody of a song, and was therefore imperative for it to be heard above everything else. For this reason, the first instrument to get the Beauchamp and Rickenbacker treatment was a lap steel guitar designed by Harry Watson nicknamed the “Frying Pan” for obvious reasons:

ON Exhibition Artifacts - 27

These electrically enhanced guitars began to be manufactured under the newly named “Rickenbacker Electro Stringed Instrument Company”, and received an official model name of the “Rickenbacker Electro A-22.” Along with these, Rickenbacker created another guitar (the Electric Spanish) to begin production at the same time. Below you can see the first known public appearance of both models, in a 1932 issue of the Wichita Beacon.

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And so, the electric guitar was born. From here, the instrument was adopted and improved upon by various different companies as it began its rise in popularity across the globe.

 

 

 

Ten Tips to Improve your Playing

Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned player, there’s always more you can learn when it comes to playing the guitar. For both the pro and the newbie, however, there are things that can both help and hinder the advancement of your learning. Those who are just starting out need to set themselves up for success. Most people who decide to quit playing a musical instrument do it before they’ve seriously delved into anything, so it’s important that the proper approach is taken with the instrument to keep it interesting and beneficial. On the other hand, those who have been playing for a long time can “plateau” – that is, reach a point where they feel they cannot or don’t want to progress any further. Either they feel as though they have reached their full playing ability, or feel they no longer have the same commitment to time investment.

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Whatever the reason, if you’re interested in learning to play and improve, consider the following ten tips to help smooth out the process!

 

1. Guitar Maintenance

This should, in my opinion, be the top priority when it comes to playing or learning to play. If you’re just starting to learn, having a guitar that gets fret buzz all over the neck, plays out of tune, and just isn’t functioning the way it should won’t exactly encourage you to play. You’ll constantly be thinking “what am I doing wrong?”, when you may in fact be playing just fine. Besides that, the sooner you understand the importance of taking care of your instrument the better.

For someone who has been playing longer, having a guitar setup to your liking will make a huge difference in your playing. The thickness of your strings, your action, intonation, pickup height… even the cleanliness of your guitar all affect how it feels when you play. If you’re looking to improve, it only makes sense for your guitar to feel comfortable. After all, you play because it’s enjoyable, right? Keep it that way!

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2. Use a Metronome

Timing is everything. It’s natural to want to speed up when you get excited, or slow down too much to compensate. While sometimes this can make for a cool sounding effect, at the end of the day you want to be able to play along with a steady beat. Using a metronome prepares you for this – it isn’t human; the speed you set it to is what it’s going to stay at. You can experiment with a metronome in different ways. As a beginner, try using it to simply keep the beat for you while you strum. Later on, try using it to play around with trickier rhythms and phrasing. Whichever way you use it, try tapping your foot along with the metronome while you play. Doing so will help teach you to “lock in” to a beat despite how complicated a rhythm or strumming pattern may be.

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3. Start Slow

You have to learn to walk before you can learn to run! Always approach a new song or riff slowly at first. In many cases you need to train yourself to make the proper movements necessary to play it before you can attack it at full speed. It’s all about muscle memory – if your hands and fingers know what to do and in what order they should do them, everything will happen more naturally. A good way to keep track of your progress is by using a metronome. Set it to a slow pace and try playing the riff you’re working on. Once you can play it smoothly, increase the pace a bit. Rinse and repeat.

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4. Record Yourself

When you’re focused on playing, sometimes it’s hard to hear what you actually sound like. One example is “rushing the beat” – it’s easy to play ahead of the beat and not even realize it until you hear a recording. Other times, you might not like your guitar tone if you heard it without playing it. When I listen to some of my older recordings, the guitar tone I had makes me gag! Think of it this way: to not go back and listen to what you’ve played would be like a painter not looking at a painting they’ve just finished. For them, it’s impossible. They can immediately see what they’ve created and decide if they like it, and what they can improve upon. We can get the same benefit, we just need to hit record!
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5. Read

Countless books and articles have been written for guitar players by guitar players. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s most likely just a google search away. Simply knowing a variety of different chord shapes, for example is a great foundation for playing later on. If you love the way a certain artist plays and sounds, learn about them! Reading a biography of your favourite artist will help you understand where they’re coming from, and could give you a closer look into how they approach playing. You’ll also pick up on their influences and what they like to hear in a player, leading you to check out other players. Knowledge is power, after all!
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6. Sing Melodies

If you can hear a tune in your head, then you can recreate it on the guitar. Try to sing or hum what you want to hear before you play it, and then keep singing it as you play it. Ultimately, you want the guitar to be your voice. Using this method can help you learn intervals, and where they appear on the guitar neck without having to delve too deep into musical theory to know them.

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7. Learn the Fret board

To go along with tip #6, learning your fret board is the most important “theory” you can know as a guitar player. Knowing scales and their extensions, knowing where shapes and patterns occur / re-occur, and knowing how to get from one note to the other efficiently are all fantastic tools to have when structuring riffs and songs. Knowing what you want to play is a great start, but having a strong knowledge of how to make it happen is just as important.

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8. Train your Ears

Being able to hear a chord or riff and play it back is a great skill to have when it comes to learning songs and jamming with other musicians. The more songs you learn, and the more you play, you will by default pick up on similar patterns and ideas that re-appear all over the place. Instead of just reading and playing back a strumming pattern, try to really listen to a chord and associate it with a different song. For example, take the “C” and “G” chords and start strumming along with the verse to “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by CCR. Stop the song, and play the two chords one after the other on your own. Now throw on “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix. The first two chords here are also C and G, just set to a different tempo and pattern. Soon enough you’ll start to know what a “C” chord sounds like, then later on you’ll be able to tell if it’s a C in the open position or if it’s a barre chord.

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Image courtesy of www.easyeartraining.com

9. Experiment

It’s very easy to become comfortable with a guitar, playing style, or genre of music. Of course being comfortable is a good thing, but there’s a downside: you might lose some of the desire to progress as you begin to feel like you’ve already “conquered” it. If you want to truly learn something new, you have to try and put yourself in the same shoes you were in when you first picked up the guitar. Try learning a song that you would never see yourself listening to. Try listening to some music you’ve never heard before. Your musical mind subconsciously absorbs anything you put into it, and it will come out in your playing and song writing whether you want it to or not!

Aside from that, you can try playing another similar instrument. Twelve string guitars, bass guitars, baritone guitars, tenor guitars, and mandolins are all examples of stringed instruments that bear a lot of resemblance to the 6-string you’re used to. That said, there’s enough that’s different about them that you will be forced to play differently, consequently teaching you something new.

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10. Emulate

Before you ever picked up the guitar, something or someone inspired you to play music. There are hundreds of thousands of artists out there now, each of whom could be inspiring someone else to play the guitar. The reason is because there’s something about the way they play or the music they make that makes people just want to do what they’re doing. By “emulating” these players; learning their riffs, note choices, play style etc. you can pick up on things that separate different guitarists from each other. Everyone has a certain “something” about the way they play, and through identifying what that thing is in other players, you’ll figure out what it is about your playing that makes you unique.

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Happy playing!

 

 

Eight Life-Hacks for the Every Day Guitar Player

It’s kind of a funny feeling; that “Eureka!” moment we all get when we discover something we had no idea existed, yet turns out to be blatantly obvious. Something that works like a charm, and solves problems we’ve been having for years. For the briefest of moments, we feel like a real-life MacGyver; nothing can get in our way! Unfortunately, these moments couldn’t exist without the moments that come before these: the brick wall moments. The times where we feel like there must be a way around something, but can’t figure it out to save our lives.

For guitar players, there’s a ton of little annoyances that we all sort of “put up with”, or don’t bother trying to fix because we aren’t aware of an easy solution. Maybe they aren’t all stopping you in your tracks, but there are ways around them to help make your life much easier. Here’s my list of eight things to consider:

1. Cut Picks from Old Credit Cards / Plastic Containers

We’re all victim to losing ridiculous quantities of guitar picks. By now I’m sure we’ve all accepted this as a norm, and while this first tip won’t exactly stop this from happening – it could save you if you find yourself without a pick in a pinch. Old credit cards or margarine containers that you’re going to cut up and throw out anyways can be cut into pick shapes and used, and if you lose them then it’s not the end of the world. Another thing to consider is keeping your favourite picks in your wallet. Get into a habit of putting them away in it whenever you finish playing – your wallet is something you’ve hopefully already trained yourself not to lose, so in this way you won’t lose your picks by default.

 

2. Use Noise to Tune

If you don’t have a tuner but do have a loud amp, you can actually use the 60 cycle frequenecy it hums to tune. Try this: plug your patch cable in but not your guitar. You should hear a loud “humming” noise, and within it you can actually pick out a particular tone. When plugged directly into a tuner, it looks like this frequency kind of bounces back and forth between a B and Bb note. Tune your B string to this note, and then the rest of the strings to the B string. You won’t be perfectly in standard, but you’ll be close enough to play by yourself and have things sound good.

 

3. Use a Pencil to help Stay in Tune

One of the leading causes of your guitar slipping out of tune is the condition of the nut slots. Strings can catch and be pulled, and not return to proper pitch especially after string bending. The nut slot shouldn’t be clutching the string with an iron grasp, but rather cup it and allow it to move freely. If your guitar goes out of tune a lot during play, try taking a pencil and “drawing” into the nut slots with some force. The idea is to get some graphite in there to act as a string lubricant, and hopefully help your strings stay in tune much better.

 

4. Toohpicks for Loose Screws

Screws and components that are loose can cause rattling sounds when you play, or can just be plain dangerous. You don’t want to have a strap button fall out on you while you play! An easy fix for this is to take out the loose screw, and use a toothpick (or pieces of toothpick, dependent on the screwhole size) to fill it. Put the screw back in, and voila! The screw is biting firmly into wood again.

 

5. Use a Shop Towel / Cloth when Stretching Strings

Here’s one for tuning again. The most frequent time your guitar is going to fall out of tune is after a fresh restring; especially if the strings weren’t stretched properly. The best way to ensure they’re nice and stretched is to apply a little heat to them while you’re pulling on them. Put a cloth or shop towel in your hand, and glide your hand up and down the length of each string while pulling it to stretch. This will add friction, which consequently heats up the string while you stretch it. It’s a more efficient way to get your strings used to their new tension faster.

 

6. Velcro for Pedals

If you’ve ever gone to band practice (or worse, hit the stage) and noticed one of your pedals is out of juice, it can spell trouble if you didn’t think to bring a screwdriver to open up the battery casing. To avoid this scenario altogether, remove all the screws when you get the pedal and line the sides of the casing with Velcro instead. This way you can easily open and shut the box much faster, whether or not you have immediate access to the tools it would normally require.

 

7. Shoelace for Knobs

Whether it be to fix or clean your electronics, or just to replace your guitar’s volume and tone knobs, there may be a point that you need to take off the existing knobs. Sometimes this is easy, and other times it’s near impossible. Top hat knobs are notorious for this, especially when placed so close to the guitar body. An easy way around this is to use a flat shoelace. Simply slide the shoelace under the knob, wrap it around, and pull up!

 

8. String for Hollowbody Volume and Tone pot Repairs

Here’s another to go along with electronics repairs. Some guitars are not built to be easily accessible. For example, many hollow or semi hollow guitar electronics can only be accessed through their pickup cavity or F-holes. This makes it tricky to get to the parts you need to work on, and even trickier to get them back to where they belong. The fix? Loosen off the knob, then tie a piece of string or fishing line to the top of the pot. Then you can let the pot fall and pull it out wherever you need to so you can work on it, and simply pull the string to bring the pot back through when you’re done.

 

So there’s my eight cheap and easy tricks for all you guitar players out there! Have you got any “life hacks for guitar players” you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Top 5 Practices for Keeping your Guitar Safe from Harm

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” There’s a hidden message in that phrase that applies to your guitar – don’t break it! It’s a terrifying thing when your pride and joy gets damaged. In many cases a guitar can be rendered useless,  or end up sporting little dings and blemishes that you would simply rather them not have. It’s true that most things can be repaired, but often times the cost of repair is higher than the physical value of the instrument. So once again, in order to avoid expensive trips to the luthier and to keep your guitar looking and playing like new, your best bet is to not break it, and prevent damage before it happens. Today I’ll outline my top 5 tips for keeping your guitar free from harm.

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1. Know your Tech / Luthier

Believe it or not, most (or at least a large portion) of the damage and wear done to a guitar occurs on the very bench it is being repaired or set up on. It is extremely important that the person who works on your instrument has a good track record, keeps a clean work-space, and knows what they’re doing. Surface scratches can appear from someone slipping with a screwdriver, leaving string clippings and fret filings behind on the workbench, or by restringing a guitar carelessly. Electronics can be ruined with improper use of a soldering iron, frets can be left in bad condition after a leveling or dressing.. and the list goes on. The list of things that can be done wrong is just as long as the list of things that can be done right.

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When you are looking for someone to work on your instrument, pay attention to testimonials from other clients. Then you should physically meet the tech, and ask to see where they would be working on your instrument. If everything checks out, then you’ve found the right person. Finding and maintaining a relationship with a good tech is the first step in keeping your guitar looking, sounding, and feeling great.

 

2. Don’t Let it Fall!

Let’s face it… not all guitar straps and strap buttons are created equal. I’m sure we’ve all experienced catching a guitar that has come loose from one end of the strap at some point of our playing career. Now imagine what happens if that strap came loose while your hands are in the air clapping, or just after you throw the guitar around your waist for a spin…

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…Yeah. Either your guitar or someone in the audience is going to get a pretty serious dent. If you’re going to play live, it’s important that you can rest assured that your guitar is secure to your body. Investing in a good quality leather guitar strap is never a bad idea. If it’s hard to loop the strap ends around the strap buttons, then you know it’s going to be just as hard for it to come off. Even still, these leather straps find a way of slipping off certain buttons. Strap locks are a great work around for this. Simply buy a set, and replace your current strap buttons with these and you’re pretty much guaranteed that your guitar isn’t going to go anywhere.

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Some guitars don’t have a strap button on the upper portion of the body or neck, and are intended to be worn by tying one end around the headstock, underneath the strings. If you prefer using a regular button-to-button strap, you’ll need to install a second strap button. In this instance, it’s vital that you install the piece where the screw is going to have enough solid wood to bite into. It’s a good idea to contact the manufacturer to find out the best spot to do this, or to go back to that handy dandy tech you met by following tip number 1!

 

3. Don’t Let it Fall #2!

Of course, your guitar won’t always be strapped around your body. When it’s time to put it down between songs, or to stand it up at home, you’re going to want to have a proper stand for it. I personally learned my lesson years ago, when I stood my Les Paul up against my amp during practise. Not five minutes passed before hearing a loud “smack!” and looking in sheer horror to see that the head-stock had been knocked right off of the neck. Getting a stand that firmly holds your guitar in place is a ~$30 way to potentially save you a few hundred dollars down the road, and spare you the grief of thinking “my guitar will never be the same”.

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Aside from the decreased risk of damage, having a stand holds your guitar in a much better way than laying it flat down. Gravity works wonders on your guitar, especially when you consider that that long, thin piece of wood known as the neck is under 120 lbs of string tension to begin with. Try this: lay your guitar flat on your lap and check its tuning. Now hold it in playing position and do the same. You might just notice a difference, and that’s all thanks to gravity. Due to this, the best way to display or place your guitar is in playing position or straight up and down.

 

4. Protect it

This one might seem obvious, but for some it just doesn’t register. I’ve seen people cross through a parking lot during a torrential downpour with their exposed guitar in hand – the kicker is they’re bringing it to be worked on. In their defense, they probably just don’t know any better – perhaps it feels like wearing a leather jacket out in the rain. “I probably shouldn’t do this.. but what’s the worst it could do?” Well, the answer is a lot. The guitar manufacturer spent a lot of time getting a ton of moisture content out of the wood before putting it together, the last thing you want to do is put it back in!Airline592pgold07sml

The rain is the least of your troubles, though. If you’re doing any travelling with your guitar, you’ll want to have it packed into a good guitar case. A hard-shell that fits your guitar is your best option (you don’t want your instrument sliding around on the inside), but there are some nice gig-bags out there with good padding that keeps the guitar safe, and makes it easier to carry.

 

5. Keep it Acclimated

As I mentioned previously, various steps are taken by guitar builders to get the wood of your guitar to a certain moisture content level before putting it together. So if you have a guitar that was built on the other side of the planet, the temperature and humidity is likely a tad different. Your guitar is greatly impacted by differences in climate, so measures should be taken to make sure your guitar doesn’t experience as much of the change going on outside as everything else is.

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Drier climates can lead to sharp fret ends and wood cracks, while too much moisture can lead to tarnishing of frets, wood swelling, high action and loose components. You can get mini guitar humidifiers that can be stored inside your guitar case, or some that fit inside the sound hole of an acoustic guitar, or just get a regular humidifier to use in the room that you store your guitar in. You can contact your guitar’s manufacturer to find out what they recommend you keep the relative humidity at, but as a general starting point I’d aim for 45-55%. If your guitar has had some serious exposure to moisture, then you may need to go the opposite route and use a de-humidifier.

 

So there you have it; a few examples of things you can do to keep your guitar in tip-top shape. Remember: don’t break it! If you’re questioning the way you’re putting your guitar down, how you’re holding it, storing it, or having it worked on, chances are you’re risking it!

 

 

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Ugly Mugs No. 2: Under the Radar (Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar)

Last week I opined about my penchant for unusual, not to say, ugly guitars like the Fenton-Weill Tux-master from England. Now, I don’t mean to throw (rolling) stones—the States has produced its share of butt-ugly guitars—but Merry Old England has contributed mightily to the cause. And even though he’s revered in the U.K. as their very own Leo Fender, Jim Burns has had a hand in more than a few guitar models that might crack a mirror if they could see themselves. One case in point: the Burns Flyte.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Now, the Burns Flyte is definitely a step up from the Tux-master, but not such a very big one. James Ormston Burns (1925-1998) began designing guitars in around 1958 when he made a short scale Supersound guitar for the musician Ike Isaacs. In 1959 Burns teamed up with Henry Weill to form the Burns-Weill company, producing the rather ungainly forebears of last month’s featured Tux-master. Burns and Weills apparently weren’t a match made in heaven and they had parted ways before the year was out. In 1960 Burns struck out on his own, founding Burns London Ltd. And putting out what’s now a legendary line of soldibody electric guitars.

Probably the most famous feature on Burns guitars of the 1960s was the setting called “Wild Dog” on the Bison and some other models. I can remember not being able to wait to plug in mine when I got it. Wild Dog!! A snarl? Growl? Sharp bark? Imagine my disappointment when I learned that Wild Dog was simply a somewhat weak phase-reversal effect like you get in-between pickups on a Strat! Now there was the marketing department run amok!

Burns guitars quickly won the hearts of British guitar players…there were, indeed, few other quality options. Plus, they arrived at just about the time that teenagers were trading in their Skiffle washboards for their first electric guitars in order to play that new music from the Colonies.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Meanwhile, in the former Colonies, guitars—especially electrics—had become hot commodities among the young. And there were lots of young folks, the Post-War Baby Boomers, hitting the right age to become a “market.” Savvy businessmen wanted in on the gold mine. Companies as diverse as Norlin (a brewing conglomerate) and CBS (TV, movies, and records) started buying guitar companies (Gibson and Fender, respectively).

Into the corporate feeding frenzy jumped the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company. At least it was in the musical instrument business to begin with! Initially Baldwin was a bidder for Fender, but lost out to CBS. On the rebound, Baldwin set its eyes on Burns of London and in 1965 began importing Baldwin-badged versions of Jim Burns’ guitars.

However, Baldwin’s affair with Burns was relatively short-lived. In 1966 Baldwin struck a deal to purchase Gretsch and they proved to be much better sellers in the U.S. marketplace. Baldwin held on to the Burns property until closing it down in 1970.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Burns wasn’t through with guitars yet. From 1969 to 1973 Burns manufactured Hayman guitars for the music distributor Dallas-Arbiter. As part of the agreement, Jim Burns couldn’t use the Burns of London name, but somehow Burns UK was acceptable and Burns resumed making guitar in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1974. Which brings us to the Flyte.

The Flyte—originally supposed to be the Concorde (or Conchorde)—coincided with the debut of supersonic aviation. Hence the swept-wing appearance. If you appreciated weird guitarflesh, this should tickle your fancy. I keep looking at it it just keeps getting weirder, and in an especially good way! Those pickups are called Mach One Humbusters. The Dynamic Tension bridge is pretty interesting…well, no, it’s not. It’s just weird. Indeed, much like Hayman guitars before it, Flytes were well made and pretty unremarkable except for the eccentric appearance.

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Vintage 1976 Burns Flyte Electric Guitar

Apparently, Burns UK Flytes were played by so-called Glam Rockers like the band Slade and Mark Bolan (who made a career of eccentric guitars, among other things). Wikipedia lists other Flyte players, but I’ve never heard of any of them, not that that signifies anything. But, you have to stretch to find Flyte fans; they never did take off.

This guitar is #172. I have no idea how many Flytes were produced, but I suspect production quantities were not enormous. They were only made for about 2 years. In around 1977 Burns UK introduced the Mirage to replace the Flyte, with re-designed Mach Two pickups. Burns UK then bit the dust.

Jim Burns gave guitars one more go with the oddly named enterprise “Jim Burns Actualizers Ltd.” From 1979-83, but that met with even less success than Burns UK and the Flyte.

Still, you have to give Burns high marks for chutzpah and if your taste, like mine, runs to the unusual, you should be sure to catch a Flyte the next time one come your way!

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

The King of Vintage – err – Used Guitars (Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar)

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

When I published my first book, Guitar Stories Vol. 1, we promoted it at a few vintage guitar shows and I would invariably get the wit from collectors and dealers, “Guitar stories, yeah, I got a few stories I can tell you.” Of course, they weren’t talking about histories, like I was, but amusing anecdotes about where they’d picked up this or that guitar. I guess most of us pack rats remember where we got things. Oh, maybe not so much the mail-order or internet scores, but back in the day when you looked the seller in the eye and tried to make him blink with a lower offer. It’s hard to forget the story about getting this Imperial guitar.

This Imperial came out of a little piece of Dickens in Philadelphia called Torresdale Music in the neighborhood with that name, in the “near northeast” as we call it, near the Burlington-Bristol Bridge (cheapest toll bridge over the Delaware River to New Jersey and back). Torresdale was a tiny, ancient corner shop just up the street from Chink’s Steaks, a legendary cheesesteak sandwich purveyor, the name of whose establishment has been the source of some local ethnic controversy. (Really good cheesesteaks consumed while sitting in 1940s-vintage wooden booths, highly recommended.)

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Torresdale Music was run by Marvin Kopernik, who’d worked for the local music distributor 8th Street Music before becoming a guitar picker, as in flea market habitué, not as in Doc Watson. Anyhow, Marvin’s shop was STUFFED to the gills with old guitars and amps that he’d pick up dirt cheap at yard sales and local swap meets, an endless stream of new treasures lurking behind something else under a shelf to tempt me.

Marvin liked to get a dear price for his wares and he would rarely budge from his sticker price. However, there were chinks in Marvin’s armor. He’d write a little code on the reverse of the price tag. It didn’t take long to decipher the fact that this was what he paid for the guitar written backwards. If it was, say, “501” I’d know that Marvin had $105 into it.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

One other chink in Marvin’s armor was that he couldn’t add too fast on his feet. The strategy was to scope out three guitars, decipher what he had into them, bundle them together and offer him a larger, but reasonable sum for the lot. Marvin’s circuits would fry and he’d hear $300 and that sounded like a lot of money and I’d walk out with a really great score!

But, no, this Imperial wasn’t part of one of those deals. You see, in addition to the overstuffed racks out front, Marvin had this teeny, tiny little back room where he’d pile up recent finds and stuff he had no room for in the showroom, like so much firewood. It was kind of painful to see, really. It was lurking under one of these stacks of guitars that I found this Imperial early in my collecting days and when I first knew Marvin. I had no idea what it was other than being Japanese, but it spoke to me.

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Vintage 1966 Imperial S-2T Electric Guitar

Much later I found out that this was a product marketed by the Imperial Accordion Company of Chicago. As we’ve discussed before, there was an accordion boom among Baby Boomers in the mid-1950s. Like many booms before and since, it didn’t last and the numerous accordion manufacturers/importers/distributors that had sprung up to meet the demand found themselves in need of new markets. Fortunately, this coincided with the rise in guitar popularity. Also fortunately, the Italian accordion manufacturers, from whom most of the accordion guys sourced their products, were also near a guitar-making area, so they expanded into guitars, many of which were sold by the old accordion companies, including Imperial. By the early 1960s Imperial was selling solidbody electrics made by Crucianelli in Italy. By around 1965 Imperial had added Japanese-made guitars to its line, including this puppy.

Just what this model is is uncertain, but we can extrapolate. This shape is very similar to the older Crucianellis. A c. 1965 catalog has the Model S1 with one pickup and the Model S-3T, a three-pickup with “tremolo.” This is probably a Model S-2T. Very similar Greco guitars from Japan are seen, and most Grecos were built by Fujigen Gakki, the factory that produced most Ibanez guitars as well. The style of this guitar probably puts it right around 1965 or ’66.

Fortunately, this had a thick enough poly finish to survive Marvin’s woodpile. Unfortunately, Marvin’s health didn’t hold up—certainly not helped by too many cheesesteaks from Chink’s—and his shop finally had to close and become a piece of Philly history and legend. Every time I see this Imperial I smile and recall those glory days when I had Marvin’s number and got to revel in his shop’s treasures. How much did I pay? Now, that’s another story…

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Peachy Keen (Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar)

Even though I don’t frequent them often, I love classic car shows. The sight of those two-tone jobs—often done up in exotic colors like pastels or turquoise—always raises a smile of nostalgia, a glimmer of my youth when they were new and I had dreams of being able to hit the road. Kind of like how I feel when I look at this very nifty EKO Condor.

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

The first time I laid eyes on this guitar was in the showroom of LoDuca Brothers warehouse in Milwaukee, which was another of those “Temples of Doom” you hear me talk about periodically. LoDuca Brothers were (or was if you consider it a company, not siblings) the American importers and distributors of EKO guitars (actually Rickenbacker handled the West Coast). LoDuca Brothers had its roots in a late 1930s, early ‘40s accordion duo Vaudeville act featuring Thomas and Gaetano (Guy) LoDuca. According to their son, Mickey, as good Italian sons, the brothers handed their earnings over to their father, who paid them an allowance and put some in savings. When they’d amassed a couple grand, they opened the first of what would become a chain of music studios around Milwaukee. As they thrived, they began to import and sell LoDuca brand accordions sourced from Oliviero Pigini of Recanati, Italy, just north of Castelfidardo, a town that is still the hub of accordion manufacturing in Italy.

As we’ve talked about before, accordions were a big fad among young Baby Boomers in the early to mid-1950s. This was good for the LoDucas business. But when the wind was squeezed out of the demand for accordions, it kind of left the LoDucas with empty hands. They played around with importing keyboards—including the actual black and white key assemblies—until, fortuitously, folk music happened and demand for guitars began to pick up toward the end of the 1950s.

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Pigini knew only too well about the drop in sales of accordions in the US, of course. So the company decided to expand into guitar manufacturing. LoDuca Brothers had an accordion distribution network with around 600 outlets and was doing business with Pigini, so they were a natural partner to handle the expansion into guitars.

As far as I know, EKO was the brand name chosen for Pigini’s guitars and didn’t come off another existing line of instruments. I don’t think it was ever used on accordions (though it eventually did get put on some electronic keyboards and drums). Just as with accordions, Pigini would gladly put the brand name of your choice on a batch of guitars, but EKO was their main string moniker. EKO guitars debuted in 1961.

The first EKO guitars were acoustics and among the first customers was Sears. LoDuca had imported a little chord organ for Sears beginning in 1959, so they had an established relationship. The first EKO electric guitars were a pair of plastic-covered solidbodies, the Models 500 and 700, covered in sparkle plastic, plus a range of archtops, introduced in 1962.

From the get-go Pigini relied on input from LoDuca Brothers to develop guitars that would sell in the American market. In this regard LoDuca enlisted a number of professional guitarists from the Milwaukee area, who endorsed EKOs.

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 EKO Condor Electric Guitar

LoDuca and EKO hit the market at a good time. EKO’s biggest year was probably 1967, when this Condor was made. It’s the huge ’67 catalog that most frequently circulates in the paper trade. I fell in love with this the moment I laid eyes on it. I mean, it’s so T-Bird (as in Ford with a porthole) or Edsel (yeah, I loved those, too). That pale pink with the black neck. And four—count ‘em—four pickups. It pretty much screams out for a matching tuxedo. Besides being a looker, this guitar actually plays pretty well, too. It’s light-weight and comfortable. The single-coil pickups aren’t screamers, but they’re beefy enough. You get a nice variety of tones, though not those swell glassy out-of-phase sounds like on a jimmied Strat. Having four on-off switches is darned awkward, but otherwise this is a sweetheart.

So, why was the warehouse this came out of another Temple of Doom? Mainly because of a confluence of events. Demand for guitars in the US began to drop in 1968. Tastes changed. Hendrix, Clapton and Bloomfield were whetting appetites for axes capable of chopping, not matching tuxedos. Then, at some time probably around 1968 or ’69, Oliviero Pigini, who loved fast sports cars, died in a car crash. Anecdotal evidence suggests that EKO’s seasoned wood supply burned up in 1970, but I can’t confirm that. In any case, quality supposedly declined.

In any case, business waned and LoDuca Brothers found itself sitting on a warehouse full of unsold EKO guitars. And there they sat for years. Fast forward and in the 1980s vintage guitar collecting became all the rage. Collectors and dealers got the word and began to mine the trove at bargain prices. Temple of Doom indeed! When I strode in, the pickings were comparatively slim, but there was still plenty of guitar eye candy left, including this two-tone beauty, as fine a sight as any gleaming T-Bird, or maybe a pink Cadillac!