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Created by a passionate guitarist, containing a bit of gear reviews and news

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Being in a successful band

Success is whatever makes you and the people that surround you happy.

Most of us want to play in a band, most of us started playing because the band was there first, some of us are no longer in that band and we have a room full of gear and we play by ourselves.

At least that was me, I’ve been playing for 20 years, I’ve been in numerous bands that never played live much but rehearsed a lot. All these bands had something in common… lack of direction.

I’m not talking about being a band leader and calling the shots, because to be honest… you need to he a renowned musician to behave like that and still have musicians following you. I’m talking about setting expectations and following them through.

At the moment I’m playing in an AC/DC tribute band that I formed with two good friends, and now that the band is fully formed… we are 5 good friends :). However there’s still a sense of “ownership” of the band, and again this doesn’t mean calling the shots (I’ll keep repeating this).

The band was my idea so I do have a responsibility of fulfilling what I pitched that night at the pub when my two good friends accepted to join the band. I knew what I wanted: to be out there enjoying the stage.

Maintaining a band together is no easy task, but trust me… it is a lot harder when there’s no reward, and what’s a musicians best reward? Tick tock tick tock… yeah.. you know it… it’s playing to an audience! Why would you spend 1 year rehearsing without at least having one gig.

Step 1: be ready sooner rather than later. How?

You need to book rehearsals, manage the diary, make sure everyone remembers there’s a rehearsal that day, if 1 person can’t make it… meet anyway… a rehearsal without one member can be just as productive and it will force the other member to do homework, because guess what… you are not slowing down!

Step 2: start talking about gigs

We all want to live in the 60s travelling in a volkswagen van and playing every night… but that’s not possible, if you are like me… in your late 30s, you probably have a job, mortgage, partner and maybe a kid, and if you don’t… someone in the band will.

You need to be realistic, and set achievable expectations, so maybe after 6 months of getting the band ready, try to set your self to get at least 3 gigs for the next 3 months.

Step 3: maintain the band spirit

Wait… so the next step is not getting gigs? Well… hold on. Getting gigs is freaking difficult and no one wants to do it, trust me… everyone has suggestions… But it is very hard to close a deal, so while you plan your “getting the gig” strategy, make sure to keep a motivated rehearsal plan, maybe now that you are ready… reduce the rehearsal schedule to once every two weeks, and bring beers to rehearsals, bring ideas, and keep the guys up to date with the plan

Step 4: get those gigs

Ah yes… this is the “secret sauce” how do I get gigs, facebook, email, go to the pubs, facebook groups, phone calls, be pushy but not desperate, offer a trial gig.

Alright let’s break that down: facebook and facebook groups. You got to setup a facebook page for your band, once all your relatives and friends are following you (they won’t go to your gigs) you need some real followers.

Get some studio shots, rehearsal audios, maybe a bit of video, all to attract attention and also to have content to share with the pub/bar you want to play at, but… don’t be too serious about it, remember which business you are in….”entertainment”

Get to the pubs: this actually doesn’t work that well unless you know the pub owner, I’ve shown up at places with CDs in my hand and talking about how great and cheap we are… and none of them materialised, but it was a crucial step for me… it made me realise how the pub dynamics work, any tip you can get from them it’s extremely valuable.

What worked for me was basically contacting venues/pubs through facebook messenger where it is very easy to be cheeky and share a video/picture with very little effort and of course your facebook page link

Step 5: prepare for those gigs

Ah yes… the good old 1-2-1 formation, or maybe 1-3? Or 1-1-2-1. It is critical that you don’t just show up to the venue unprepared about positioning yourself on stage. This is your chance to shine, it is your sunday match… you need to blow these people heads, so make sure you turn up with a plan and everyone knows what to do, act professional so the landlord sees that you know what you are doing. So make sure you rehearse stage presence… a lot!!

Step 5.1: design your gig, invest!

Let’s be honest, you are not impressing anyone with your guitar solos, or drum solos, and if there is a musician in the audience… he’ll be trying to pick on your mistakes. There are 3 things that the audience will remember.

How good you sounded overall (not just you… yeah you… you know what I mean), how good was the singer AND how much fun they had.

Let’s break these down again.

A) How goos you sounded: of course… making less mistakes means that you’ll sound better, right? Well… yes but no. You need to learn how to recover from mistakes, everyone, EVERYONE screws up a few times per gig, most of them goes unnoticed… but… if some one does.. we need to cover up for him. Together we stand, divided we fall. If the singer misses the start of the chorus, if the drum started on the wrong beat, if the guitar player is going for a longer/shorter solo… you need to adjust the song.

Everyone needs to listen what each band member is doing and make sure you are constantly adjusting to make the band sound good. Not just yourself.

B) How good is the singer: Well… abyone can sing, right? Wrong! There is nothing more annoying than seeing a band with a bad singer, the singer is the most important member, the songs need to suit the singer and the singer needs to suit the songs, there will always be a song that you love and your solo is great on it… but if the singer is not feeling it.. then you are not playing it. The Singer is the face of your band, they present the band to the public and the public will judge the band based on his performance. So.. keep the singer happy and do the songs he likes and the one he sounds better at. Remember… the performance is not for you… it is for the audience.

C) How much fun they had: oh yeah, my favourite!! Don’t just stand there like lemons… move around, engage with the audience, buy props, lights, banners, be different, give the audience some gifts.

This has really made a difference for us. Lights, smoke machines, confetti cannon. The look on people’s faces when you fire that confetti cannon… it’s invaluable, suddenly you’ve become the center of attention even for those that don’t like your music… who cares.. confetti! Let’s dance. Simple as that, if this was an equation… fun = confetti and confetti = fun.

Step 6: be consistent and step up your game everytime

Have something new every time you return to a venue, not necessarily songs… but props, lights. Be consistent on you performance quality and step up your game on how you engage and entertain your audience. For example… last time we returned to a venue… we filled up the place with balloons! And we don’t have roadies.. it was just us inflating balloons (over 100).

So that’s it…. basically… follow your heart and lead the way. Not everyone in the band will have the same passion for the songs, but everyone in the band is up for having fun, and that’s your responsibility.

Am I (the author of this post) credited to give advise on this? I think so… I’ve recently moved to a new country and managed to setup a band that ir is regularly gigging and does not need constant rehearsing, so the fun to homework ratio is very high.

Follow my band here: Meanstreak UK

Last but not least… none of this would’ve been possible without the encouragement of Chris, so… Chris if you are reading this… THANK YOU!

Taming a big boy’s Marshall Amp

Marshall 8080
Marshall vs100
Marshall JCM 900 combo
Marshall JCM 900 head 5881 tube version
Marshall JCM 900 EL34 version
Marshall JTM 30
Marshall JCM 2000 TSL601
Marshall Class 5
Marshall 8040
Marshall VS102R
Marshall JMP 2200
Marshall JCM 800
Marshall ministack
Marshall 1987x
Marshall 5005 (lead 12 no reverb)
Marshall 5005 (bass)
Marshall JTM45
Marshall DSL15H
Marshall 2201

Those are all the Marshall amps (heads and combos) I’ve owned over the past 20 years, I’ve sold some of them and I must have around 8 or 9 at my home studio now, I’m only listing them so you have an idea of what my Amp Journey has been.

Once you enter the tube/valve world you don’t look back (sometimes you do :p) but this tube/valve world is complex, confusing, expensive, loud and heavy!!

Let’s talk about the Loud characteristic most of these amps posses, you can buy a 5 watt tube amp and it’ll still blow your pants off, there’s a number of reasons this happens, the speaker efficiency also plays a huge part of this, but let’s stick to the amp.

The guitar signal moves through the inside of the amp getting powered up and ready to come out of the speaker ready for you to enjoy, on this journey the signal acquires distortion, volume and EQ, now… valve amps have a “power section” which is where the famous power tubes come into play, this is where things get out of control on tube amps (mostly vintage jmp styles with no master volume) because this stage not only gets you the volume but it also gives you more distortion and a specific tone that you might be after.

Some Marshalls will have a Master Volume, and this controls the amount of voltage that gets routed to the power tubes, it also allows you to play with distortion at “bedroom levels”, but the most exciting Marshalls to play (plexi style) often don’t have a master volume…. what does this mean? Well… it means that you don’t have a gain control, so all the distortion comes from the volume, which means… you need a ridiculous amount of volume to get the distortion we all look for, this is THE distortion.. Page, Hendrix, AC/DC, etc. This is what we all want to hear from a Marshall.

So… why am I writing this? Because I’ve found ways to obtain this sound without going deaf, and believe me when I say…. these amps are loud! I wasn’t around in the 70s so I’m not sure how loud these bands would play in pubs, but it would’ve been deafening loud.

What you need is an attenuator, to attenuate the signal that the amp spits out before it hits the speakers, now… this is critical to remember. The Master Volume controls the voltage to the Power Tubes but the attenuator, lets the amplifier be and it attenuates the audio signal that goes to the speaker after it leaves the amp, so the amp tone is genuine… everything you want it to be. And why do we want this? Because power tubes are a component of the sound too so we need to let them be a part of the tone. The attenuator is a genius invention and gives us the ability to run these genuine marshall tones at bedroom levels

There are a lot of attenuator brands out there but I’m going to talk about the one I have but also give some pointers of what to look out for.

  • Don’t buy an L-pad attenuator. These can be found for like 30 bucks on ebay, they do work but they also catch fire quite easily if you overload them. Trust me.. I built one and once I tried to use it with a 100W amp and smoke started coming out even though it was for 100W. If you do use an L-pad attenuator get at least double the rating of the amp
  • Don’t buy attenuators that only work with one speaker load combination, THD hotplates, Palmer and some others offer attenuators at decent prices (£250) but they are designed for 4, 8 or 16 ohms, so you’ll need a new piece of equipment if you ever change your speaker combination.

I bought the Two Notes Reload, why? Because I found it at a good price and it has an ohm load selector along with other things, it’s a great piece of gear, it also has cab simulation and some other fancy stuff that I’ll never use.

Guitar volume pots are important!

This next experience is related to a few gibson SGs and humbucker pickups.

Do you know what’s inside your guitar? It’s safe to say that we all know more than before… you can find anything on the internet about your guitar specs and whether they are good components or not.

Pots are often ignored, we look at wood, pickups, tuners and of course guitar brand, however pots are critical, think about them as the wheels of a car, you can have the best and biggest engine ever… but if your wheels are worn out or cheap quality then your car will just spin out of control.

CTS. I’m sure you’ve all heard of this brand, it’s probably on 90% of guitars out there, and they are the best of the best, however… they can be even better… there’s a company called RS Guitarworks that worked with CTS to develop a more authentic vintage taper and a more realistic value of the pots, humbuckers almost always are installed with 500k pots, however… they are not always 500k, they can be 450, 510, 460, etc. And even though the number is not really important… there’s a reason why they need to be 500k, and this is how the pickup was designed to work, with a 500k pot, because that’s just how it sounds like the developer wanted.

I was tired of having different tapers on the guitars I use live, the taper defines how steep the volume increase/decrease is when you turn the pot. This can be ok for your home guitars because they can all have a different character and you might actually like this, but for live performances you want to be able to switch guitars and at least for me… hoping for a similar performance when using the volume, I manage how much distortion the guitar gets by using the volume on it.

So I bought 4 RS Guitarworks superpots for my main SGs, after 2 hours of dealing with my not great soldering skills I was able to test the first guitar, I was blown away and I don’t say this lightly, I don’t often go around changing things in my guitars. The guitar sound just became more clear and more alive, the old pot probably with a below than 500k reading was holding the pickup down.

The volume taper was amazing, the sound of the pickup was amazing instantly, I was now able to get a crunchier sound by setting the volume to around 5 and then getting an angrier sound when I turned it up to 10.

By the way… I’m not associated with them in any way.

I play in an AC/DC tribute band called Meanstreak, and being able to use the volume on the guitar to control distortion is key and absolutely necessary, to cut a long story short… I can’t recommend them highly enough, they are a bit more expensive than regular CTS but they are totally worth it! Give your guitar a treat and get one of these to try out.

Playing with tone

Don’t be a knob snob, that is my advice and second advice is… follow suggestions to prove them wrong or right.

I don’t have much patience when it comes to trying things out, usually I just try to plug in and play, I have little time to play during the week and I sort of think that I waste time when I find myself fiddling with gear for hours.

However I’ve decided to start locking some time in and try to record a few things (I also don’t like recording) just to see if I could come at peace with this tedious and boring task. To my surprise… I still found it tedious and boring… but… it helped me re-discover my amp controls and equalization, I know this sounds obvious and most of the amps have had those 3 basic eq controls since the beginning of time, but I’m sure that most of you keep everything in the middle… (noon).

We all know what they do… but we often play with treble or bass controls and leave the mids in the middle right? I learnt what the mids does when I started playing heavy metal… I had one of those valvestate marshalls that had the “contour” control which scoops the mids, scooping the mids means taking out mids, remember that U shaped eq on your dad’s hi-fi system? Well it’s the same thing.

What does this does to my tone? Well… it adds “tightness” it changes the way distortion sounds, it’s an awesome thing to play with, suddenly everything sort of sounds better, the problem is that if you scoop them too much your sound will not cut through the mix, but a little bit of it can get you to that sweet spot you’ve been waiting for.

Even though I knew about mids (of course… I’m not a rookie… right? :p) when I finished my recording tests I found that the guitar was too much in my face… like a gritty sound, I tried mic placement (another art) which it changed the sound but I still wasn’t happy, so I went to the Eq section and started moving things around until I remembered that U shape!!, so now even though I mainly play AC/DC I still scoop the mids a bit… if listen to “Shoot to Thrill” you’ll see that mids are heavily scooped.

Long story short…. spend time playing with the knobs, try recording and playing with the eq on the computer/ipad, you’ll be surprised how closer you’ll get to the sound you are after and then you can try yo mimic those settings in your amp. Remember that all the records or live concerts you hear have a myriad of experts sorting out every detail of the sound until it’s perfect. Remember that old story “guitar straight to amp”? Well… it is true… but remember there’s a team between the amp and the sound you finally hear.

MXR Dyna Comp

Review of a classic… this pedal has been around for ages, more precisely it was released in the 70s and according to Wikipedia it instantly became a “Nashville Standard” I’ve only had this pedal for 6 months or so, so it’s not a classic for me but as soon as I plugged it in something snapped.

I first tried it with my Eric Clapton Stratocaster, as we all know compressors are sort of associated with chicken picking… and so are guitars with single coil pickups, the sound instantly becomes “studio” like, that was the first thought that came into me… everything just sounds tidier… compressed (of course), if you play “under the bridge” by RHCP with this pedal… you’ll think you are listening to the studio version, it’s pretty amazing.

So… first impressions were great I fell in love instantly and I said to my self “I’ll stuck this pedal to the amp with Velcro and never turn it off again”, however not everything that shine is gold, the pedal is a bit noisy, and what happens is there is a lot of noise when you are not strumming the strings and as soon as you strum.. the pedal compresses the sound causing a “volume difference” all the time which is a bit annoying but I do understand that this is the nature of a compressor, but it could have a noise gate of some sort.

I then moved on to the  SG (humbucker guitar) and tone was ok, the best thing about combining this pedal with distortion is the sustain you get out of it… however the sustained note seems to vary in volume as it sustains for longer and longer, making me think the pedal is not entirely designed for this task… however I did hear that Angus Young uses a bit of compression on his Schaffer Replica to get that extra sustain, but we’ll touch on that later since I’ve already pre-ordered a Solo Dallas Storm (mini Schaffer Replica).

I totally recommend this pedal by all means this should be in your arsenal, you can have loads of fun with it but I’m not sure if it would be the 1st pedal I would buy, I think the Ibanes TS9 or a Vox 847 Wah Wah should definitely come in first.

Ohhhh the pick!

I’m not trying to be “picky”  but… plectrums are important.

They are the ones responsible of translating our amazing right hand ability to our strings, and we can never have enough of them.

I’ve decided a few weeks ago to buy all sorts of different picks, I’ve always played with Gibson’s medium/heavy until I discovered the Dunlop Tortex (1.14) they are for me the best picks available, they are very rigid but not thick… the strength of your picking action translates straight to the string without much effort and they last a lot longer than other normal picks, and most importantly they just feel right for me, and that’s the key here… It’s not about what someone else uses it’s about what makes you feel comfortable because when you are on that stage and the pick falls out of your hand in the middle of the solo… You are pretty much living every guitarist’s nightmare.

But… What is it that is right for us? guitarists are usually very mood dependent, anything wrong with our rig can throw off our mood for that perfect solo.

There is a great variety of picks out there, and it’s very hard to choose, so just buy them all! fortunately picks are cheap (compared to your vintage TS9!) and we can test them out as we please.

This is what I got from Ebay.


From left to right and top to bottom:

Carbon Fibre Dunlops, Bone, Beehold (back and front), Coconut shell (back and front), Dunlop Tortex (1.14, 1.0, 0,9 and 0.79)

They are all different and yes… They produce a different sound, I was very sceptical of this but different materials affect the tone.

Dunlop small

The Dunlop Jazz carbon fiber: They are very hard but too small… They have a pattern that helps you keep them on your fingers, but because they are so small they are not very comfortable and it’s very easy to drop them.

 

bone

Bone (made by Steve Clayton): I really liked these the sound is so warm and natural… but you can still get harmonics…they are good for blues and any kind of strumming… so I’m sure they must be a killer for any acoustic guitar, really worth a try!

bee hold

Beehold (made by Steve Clayton): I didn’t liked them as much.. it’s got an hexagonal hole to enhance grip but the hole it’s too high for me… the actual pick quality is decent… but the sound you get is a bit trebly and the pick is flimsy.

Coconut (made by Steve Clayton): it’s ok… I think it might be good for acoustic guitars, the main issue is that it’s curved, they are gorgeous though.. but it takes some time to get used to them and they are fairly big.

Dunlop

And finally my favourites!

Dunlop ULTEX Sharp: oh man, these picks are incredible, I prefer the 1.14 they are very stiff but thin, you get great control of the pick because the size is just right and it’s very hard to wear them out. If you want an ULTEX but you are more of a soft/medium pick guy/girl… I recommend 0.73 or 0.9 they are great as well.. but too soft for my taste.

 

So there you go, get a few picks and try them out, don’t just settle with the ones you get for free at the music store, picks are important to your tone and it will help you shape your signature sound.

My guitar bleeds?? [treble]

Modding… I don’t like that word, mainly because it’s been associated with atrocious modifications to anything… from cars to guitars you name it, however we are always thinking that our guitar can sound a bit (or a lot) better with certain modifications/enhancements.

I’m not a very good solder, in fact… almost 70% of the times I tried soldering something to my guitar it didn’t go well and I needed expert’s assistance, but this time it seemed pretty easy.

We are al familiar with the volume knob, right? if not… go back to your guitar and experience with using the volume knob to get less or more gain, it’s a whole new world. Anyway we might not all use it but we know where it is… but for those of you who use it, I’m sure you all noticed that when you roll down the volume not only you loose volume but the treble goes with it and the tone that we get is not very exciting, it goes pretty.. what’s the word?… unexciting.. yes, it’s just not great, So I started researching a found out that it is a very common “issue” and there is also a very common “mod” for it.

All you need is a resistor and a capacitor… which is basically two very small things that do something to the signal going through cables, this link explains it very well.

You can see in the picture the little blue fella (the resistor) and the green fella (capacitor), this is the inside of my 1971 Gibson SG Standard.

_DSC7918

It’s not very hard to install and if you checked the link above… you’ll see it for yourself, it’s a 5 minute job even for a very bad solder like me.

The results?… well it does it’s job, now when I roll down the volume I don’t loose any treble and I do loose gain and volume, which is my intention… using the volume at 6/7 for rhythm and all the way up on 10 for the solos.

The experience is very rewarding and mainly if you are a beginner on these things… it’s like getting a bit intimate with your instrument, knowing the inside… how everything is connected and understanding how stuff works, you also get some collateral knowledge from the research you have to do to install this little thing and this may sparkle some more exciting modifications/enhancements.

Just be careful when you solder.. don’t burn the wood on the guitar! I’ve done it way too many times.

I leave here a short video of myself doing the mod.

 

 

Emulated what?

This may be irrelevant to loads of people, but it is something I have recently “discovered” on one of my amps.

It’s called “Emulated Output”, I’ve seen this for ages in loads of amps, but it’s a little different on my Blackstar HT-1R, it’s got a 1/4″ standard guitar jack, and this means I am able to use it with my headphones, usually these outputs (at least in my experience) are XLR outputs and they are made so you can connect your amp to a console and get reproduce the sound through other speakers (not guitar cabinets), this is useful for live gigs, however I never liked the sound yo can get out of this. Anyway… going back to the Emulated Output on the Blackstar, I’ve connected my headphones… and I was blown away! you feel that the sound you hear is from a 100W amp at a stadium gig (if you use a little reverb :p).

To my understanding this output allows you to hear the sound that you would get if you could turn your amp to 10 without going deaf or to jail (pesky neighbors) and it is addictive you could just sit and play riffs for hours and still fall in love with the sound, and not only that… you can also plug in your phone to the input and hear the music through your headphones, so you can play along your songs without anyone hearing a thing but most importantly with an impressive quality.

If you don’t have a pair of decent headphones I’ve already recommended in previous posts the AKG K77, they are very decent and dirt cheap. I found that this output did not work well with my Marshall headphones, I think it’s got to do with the amount of power they can take, because it sounds all distorted, so you may need some studio headphones.

Blackstar

 

Strings, the soul of our guitar

The title of this post is not an understatement… Strings are very important just as important as tyres are for cars, surely you can drive with worn tyres, but you’ll probably slip at some point!

Every time I change my strings I re-discover the guitar tone, that first strum… the first lick you play… it just sounds great and for me it goes… “oh.. have I played this song since I changed the strings? I gotta try it”, but let’s face it changing strings is a pain in the neck, and 70% of the times I end up stinging one of my fingers with the high E so it’s a task that I usually don’t look forward to, the good thing about it? apart from the tone is that we get to buy something for our beloved guitar, whatever it is we just love buying stuff.

But… which is the right string for me!? and this is as hard as searching for your tone or more likely… it’s part of searching for your tone, because as the title states the strings are the soul of your guitar (and your fingers are the engine) and every gauge, brand, material, etc. sounds different some brighter, some darker, some just break all the time and some just “do the job” and we stick with those, but is this ok? should we not experiment a bit more? I mean… they are only like £6 a set, so why don’t we try more brands and gauges and materials? I bet is because you also hate changing strings!

Well… I always used Ernie Balls, either 0.010 or 0.009, because that’s what everyone uses, and it’s just what they usually have at the stores, however we now have Ebay! (I know it’s been around for ages… but I’m trying to prove a point here) and we can buy all sorts of different strings, there are tons of brands out there now, but there is something that recently has caught my eye (or ear?) I saw an interview with Billy Gibbons, and he talks about the time he met BB King and how BB asked him if he could play his guitar… of course Billy was more than happy to do this! and BB goes “your strings are a bit heavy”, Billy of course says “well.. we are just looking for a specific tone and sound”, and this is probably the reason why most of us go with 0.10 because we feel that 0.09 is just too thin and the sound it’s just too thin as well, but BB says “that’s all fine, but the question is… why are you working so hard?” BB was one of the first bluesmen to use low gauge strings (I think they were 0.008) so Billy listened to him and he swapped his 0.011 with 0.008 and never looked back, to the point that he went down to 0.007, and this is where my story begins…

I saw the interview and I thought… I need to try this, so I went online and bought a set of Rev. Willy’s 0.007 and man… was I impressed! they are so good! and the playability is just effortless, bends are easier and the tone is all there! it takes a bit to get used to them because they are thin! you can barely feel the high E, but trust me they sound amazing, I equipped my ’71 Gibson SG with them and I love it.

So… don’t just use 0.009 just go ahead and try! SRV used 0.013 but BB used 0.008 and they both sound amazing so there you go, spice is the essence of life, in our case it could be strings!

Also there is something “new” out there called Polyweb… from Elixir, I haven’t tried those but they are supposed to be great as well!

Have a look at the video, enjoy “La grange” but also at the end you’ll listen at Billy talking about his strings.

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