There have been many times I’ve felt as though something, someone, has been looking over me as I build or repair an important instrument. The whole Randy Rhoads Tribute bass was an example (one day I’ll tell the stories, they literally freak some people out), but another happened today. I’m doing some work on a vintage guitar, restoring, and relicing (paint touch ups, and cracking, aging, etc) it to its former glory. Unfortunately the owner passed away, but his wife wants it back the way it should be (it had some heavy mods that didn’t do it many favours). Continue reading
Hey there, Sports Fans. This is the first instalment of a column that I hope will be a regular occurrence around these parts. It basically entails me, Dave, chatting and sometimes waxing lyrical/nostalgic about the equipment that myself (and Suze, if you’re interested) have been playing/using/abusing during the last 20 or so years of Baby Animals (and maybe even the 17 years before that…).
Those of you who know me know that I’m a self-confessed ‘gear-head.’ I have been fortunate to have acquired some really nice stuff and I really enjoy discussing equipment, what it does, how it sounds, how it looks and most importantly, the way it makes music… Continue reading
By Alexander Briones
Understanding the basics of acoustic guitar maintenance is as important as knowing which guitar to buy. Even the most beautiful acoustic guitar will end up becoming a lump of twisted wood if not properly cared for. Here are some tips to keep your guitar safe and functioning properly.
There’s no place like home
When buying an acoustic guitar, you should automatically be thinking of its proper guitar case. Getting the right guitar case for your guitar is the most important maintenance investment that you will ever make. It will serve as your guitar’s home, keeping it safe from impact, stress, heat and humidity. A great case will save you from a lot of unnecessary future repair expenses. Many quality acoustic guitars come with a guitar case, if it doesn’t, then it is imperative that you talk to the dealer to find a suitable case. Your guitar has to fit perfectly into the case and its neck should have good support.
Here’s a little heads-up. I wrote a guest post about retro-themed Eastwood guitars for the great design/art/general-awesome blog of Pilgrim Lee, Draw Pilgrim. Some of you may know Pilgrim as a tremendously talented artist and designer. Others may know her as Mrs I Heart Guitar. ;)
CLICK HERE to read the post.
I think one of the most enjoyable parts of music is playing for an appreciative audience. Whether that is for a supportive spouse, a few friends, or some strangers at a coffee shop, playing for others beats sitting on the couch and playing alone. The music takes on a different quality when you are offering something up for other people to enjoy. I personally find that I am much more satisfied as a player when I am able to give something back to a listener as opposed to playing only by myself.
Venturing out to play music in public is a pretty daunting thing. Going from your living room couch where your only audience is your dog or cat, to a coffee shop or pub with strangers watching can be unnerving to some. Lets look at some things to keep in mind when taking the leap.
Always try to start in a friendly venue. Don’t go try to get a gig at the rough biker bar across town. I recommend open mics and things like song circles at music stores. At a song circle everyone goes around, picking a song and starting it, with everyone else joining in. So that means you are going to have to start a tune and sing it front of people. Some folks may be able to just jump straight to playing on stage, but others may not, so this is a good option.
I like open mics because they are often oriented towards the beginning performer. That means the audience is supportive, and you can go on stage worrying less about messing up. Participants usually play one to three tunes, depending on the size of the open mic. This can be a good time to work on stage banter as well. For me talking before and after the songs is more nerve wracking than actually playing them. That’s the fun part.
One thought I always try to keep in the front of my mind is that the audience is there to support me. They want the musician on stage to succeed, and they want to have a good time. It always pains me to see a musician go up on stage, and start of by saying, “Here is a song of mine, I hope I don’t mess it up”, or “I hope you like this next song of mine.” In my opinion statements like that put the audience in a negative or judging mindset before you have even started your piece. You don’t want them thinking anything except how they are going love and enjoy this piece of music you are about to play.
There are a few kind of mental pitfalls that can befall the performing musician, and its good to be mindful of them. They are especially prevalent in instrumental music.
One is the syndrome of perpetually speeding up, like a snowball tumbling down a mountainside. The performer comes on that phrase that they know gives them trouble, they get tense, speed up, and pretty soon are going faster and faster. Often times they are not aware this is going on. One way to avoid this is to be diligent about practicing with a metronome at home, making sure that you don’t speed up at tough passages. This will make it less likely that you will speed up during performance.
Another thing that can happen is the dreaded mental blank. You are playing along, sounding great, all of a sudden you forget where the tune goes next. Hopefully you can fumble through, or else you have to stop, crack a joke, and hope the audience understands. One way to avoid this is to always concentrate on what you are playing at the present. Don’t think about what you are going to play next, or what some members of the audience might think of your music. Just be in the moment.
I know when I started performing more I often stressed about what to say between tunes. Some audience interaction is required after all. A good place to start can be just to talk about the tune you are about to play. Since it can be a bit formulaic to start each time by saying “This next tune is about….” it can help to frame the story about a personal experience, or who you learned the tune from. I have found that good performers will take note of what works well during a gig, and recycle the same stories or jokes.
Hopefully you can use these tips to make the leap to playing on stage. Performing can be a very gratifying activity, and I always encourage folks to take the leap if its something they want to do.
About the Author
Anton Emery is the Community Manager of http://www.RhythmStrummer.com. This site offers easy guitar songs for adult learners in a fun & patient atmosphere, taught by teachers who care. Students learn songs & technique lessons across a variety of genres, including Folk, Country, and Classic Rock- all with NO advertising.
Hey! Head over to Jason Shadrick’s blog to see my guest post, a lesson on the crafty art of syncopation. Hope you dig it. Make sure you check out the rest of Jason’s site, including his excellent Twitter directory and the ’7 Questions’ series including Greg Koch, Steve Vai, Alex Skolnick (I especially dig Alex’s Hunter S Thompson quote), Stu Hamm, Paul Gilbert and many more.
For every generation of players, there’s a select few who achieve an iconic status over time.
Players who either bring something new and fresh to the table (which is a bit hard to do these days) or players who take what already has been touched upon but make it their own and expand the limits of what a guitar player is thought of being capable of doing.
One of the players who have taken the guitar and put his own stamp on it, done his own twist so to speak, of this current generation is Nevermore’s shred lord Jeff Loomis.
Jeff is currently out on a clinic tour with Schecter guitars in which he gives some insight to his philosophies regarding writing, playing and gear, as well as shredding through a nice six-song set composed of two Nevermore classics and four songs from his debut solo album, Zero Order Phase.
I heart guitar asked me to go there and to report from it, so I figured I should try and ask Jeff a couple of questions. Thankfully, he was an grade A dude, very approachable and very funny.
Jeff actually started playing drums before moving to the six-string (and eventually adding a seventh to his arsenal). Starting on a three-piece kit that had such a foul odor that he gravitated away from playing it, he eventually heard Yngwie Malmsteen and his work in Alcatrazz, which caused him to gain enough interest in guitar to pick up one of his dads instruments.
From there, he went to Jason Becker and Marty Friedman who remain big influences to this day which shows up in Jeff’s playing such him as utilizing a Becker-like approach for the whammy bar phrasing of the song Jatu Unit.
As a 16 year old, Jeff actually auditioned for Megadeth and though he was deemed as too young and inexperienced at the time by Dave Mustaine, he took him aside and told him that he really was on to something and to stick to his guns, because he would one day, according to Mustaine, become a great guitar player.
Lo and behold, Mustaine was right on the money, seeing as Jeff is one of the most revered guitar players in metal today and actually toured in his own band Nevermore with Megadeth on Gigantour in 2005!
After his audition, the young Jeff (not Jeff Young) went to see a Cacophony show and as Marty Friedman left the stage after it, Loomis told him about Megadeth seeking a new guitar player and “Marty’s eyes just lit up”, and well, we all know how the story about Marty and Megadeth went on from there.
Jeff himself struggled on, playing in death metal bands until he got tired of the vocal styling and wanted to find a singer who sung with a more traditional approach. In 1991, he was able to join the band Sanctuary as a touring member, which was where he met Warrel Dane and Jim Sheppard.
4 months after him joining Sanctuary, the good ol’ “musical difference” thing snuck up and the band dissolved. Jeff, Warrel and Dane went on to form Nevermore who, six studio albums (plus one EP), a live album/DVD-package and a new full-length on the way, have truly become a force to be reckoned with. With Jeff being the main-composer of their music, a big part of their success can be attributed to him, so I was really expecting this clinic to be something extra-ordinary.
From the get-go, Jeff comes out all guns blazin’ with the first track from his awesome solo album Zero Order Phase, Shouting Fire at a Funeral and he delivers a stellar performance, his fingers flying across the fretboard. Between the six songs played, he opens the floor for questions three times, revealing that the new Nevermore album The Obsidian Conspiracy has been recorded and it’s currently being mixed, hopefully to be out in January, as well as philosophies regarding picking. For example, he reveals that a lot of the fluid sound of his runs descending down the strings comes from his use of economy picking instead of straight alternate. On Chris Broderick, he gets a bit emotional, saying that:
- “I miss him, for sure. We were best friends and we still are” and how he thought the new Megadeth album Endgame, which Broderick performed on, was
- “killer and a bit of a return to the roots. The best album they’ve done is Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying and it was a bit like that so I really like the new album”. Jeff also dropped a fairly big bomb, revealing that he was offered the lead guitarist position of Megadeth after Glen Drover left the band. However, Jeff declined and stated that
- “I’ve been in Nevermore for over 15 years now, and though the paycheck from Megadeth would’ve been really nice, the music goes before the money”. Also addressing the fact that Nevermore live shows have been remarked as “thin sounding” due to the lack of a second guitarist;
- “I think the main problem is to find someone who can replace Chris, which is a big thing. He’s a great guy and an amazing player so it’s not easy. But yeah, we will try to find a new guitar player” (can we freeze-frame here for a couple of decades so I can practice and get good enough?).
After an hour of fretboard blazing and Q&A, the clinic’s over and it’s time for us clinic-visitors to try and take it all in which is a pretty tall order, seeing as Jeff has kindly shared a lot of cool, memorable tips with us. If Jeff has a clinic coming up anywhere near you (or if Nevermore swing by on tour), you should go, seriously. It was a lot of fun, if nothing else, and Jeff is one of the kindest and most awesome famous guys I’ve ever met.
Setlist (the order might be slightly off):
Shouting Fire at a Funeral
This Godless Endeavour
Enemies of Reality
Miles of Machines
“I really like my old Marshall tube amps, because when they’re working properly i.e. when the volume is turned up all the way, there’s nothing can beat them, nothing in the whole world. It looks like two refrigerators hooked together……..”
James Marshall Hendrix – Los Angeles, 1967
Joe Matera: So how did a drummer end up developing a classic guitar amplifier?
Jim Marshall: Well, I’d started in show business as a singer. I’ve been in show business for 64 years, singing for 64 years but drumming for about 58 years. I started drumming afterwards you see. It’s just something that progressed over the years from showbusiness to teaching. I taught many of the top drummers like Mitch Mitchell with Hendrix, Micky Waller with Rod Stewart…many of the top drummers, I’ve taught during the 50′s and then decided to open a drum shop. But that went wrong because Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore and one or two others got onto me and said “why don’t you stock amplifiers and guitars?”. I said “well, I know a lot about drums but not much about guitars”. They told me if I would stock them, they’ll buy them from me instead of going to the West End of London because they were treated there in London like idiots. The rock and rollers used to use the Fender Bassman. That was the nearest thing to the sort of sound they wanted. Later on in 1961 they said to me “well, the amplifier’s (Fender Bassman) not built to give us the correct sound”. So I got together with a young electronics engineer, he was only 18, but he was brilliant and after 6 proto-types we produced the first rock and roll amplifier and its been that sound ever since. That’s how I got into it and I actually only wanted to do it for my own shop and my own customers but it grew and grew and grew until it’s where we are now. We put roughly 4,500 units a week, amplifiers and cabinets, into the world market.
JM: In many magazines over the years, Pete Townsend has always been credited with developing the idea for the Marshall “stack”. Is this true?
Jim Marshall: No! Unfortunately, a lot of magazines write what they think readers want to read. What really happened was this. Pete came to me and said, “the 50 Watt amp I’m using is not loud enough for me, I want a 100 Watt”. He added, “but instead of a 4X12 cabinet, I want an 8X12 cabinet”. I said “well what sort of cabinet do you want?”. He said ‘a great big square one!” and I replied “that’s going to look stupid with a little amplifier on top, but leave it with me”. I said “what I think you need is the first 4X12 I designed, which was a straight fronted one and the second one to make the amp and cabinet look as if it was designed like that, cause that’s why I put the angle on. We’ll make that a stack”. Pete replied “No, I don’t want two cabinets…put them all in one cabinet!” I thought alright it’ll still be the image of the stack, but it’ll be in one cabinet. Well, I was very strong in those days and I had an athlete working for me on the cabinet side and we carried these cabinets out of the factory in Hayes, Middlesex and they were so heavy it was unbelievable and I said to Pete, “your roadies going to kick my ass!” and he said “they get paid!”. Well, two weeks later he came back and said “your right Jim. I tried to help one of the roadies top put one of these cabinets into the truck and IT was heavy!. Have them back and cut them in half”. I said well if I cut them in half they’ll fall to pieces. So leave it to me to go back to what I suggested in the first place to make it a stack”. And that’s the way it came about. It was him that wanted 8X12′s because of the 100 Watt heads, they were the first three 100 Watt heads we ever made…and he had them. Of course the 100Watt was no good in those days with one 4X12, because the speakers in those days were only capable of taking 25 Watts, unlike speakers today that can take 300, 400 Watts. Thats the way the stack really came about.
JM: You had so many of the early classic British bands actually form in your shop. Every one from Hendrix’s band to Deep Purple.
Jim Marshall: Mitch Mitchell, who was a child actor actually, came to me in the first place to ask me if he could have the job in the shop as the Saturday boy. Then he wanted me to teach him drums. Then Ritchie Blackmore was playing with one of my other pupils in a school group and they all came together in my shop. You see, all the guitarists that came in to see me were those playing with my pupils. I was the first drum teacher over here (England) to teach them rock and roll. And Micky Waller was the first one to get me to teach them, because he said to me “can you teach me to play this new stuff called rock and roll?” And I said “its only even quavers, basically its Latin American, so its quite easy and I’ll teach you”. Because the accents are in different places that’s all it is to it, and because I taught the drummers, the guitarists came in and it was like a labour exchange and thats where a lot of the early groups were formed, in my shop in London.
JM: In 1981, you introduced the JCM800 series.
Jim Marshall: There’s another story to go with that too, the true story! I’d just finished a 15 year contract with a company called Rose-Morris and unfortunately being a pro musician, I thought to sign a 15 year contract with regular money coming in was the next best thing since sliced bread….and I was wrong! After about 3 or 4 months I realized I could outsell this company any day of the week and during that 15 year contract they never ever reached a million pounds turnover in a year!. So in 1981 I’d already done re-designing the appearance of some of the things and I was stuck to know what to call it and for weeks I was thinking how can I put this over. Then one day, I walked out to the car park, and looked at my number plate: JCM 800. That was perfect for the 80′s wasn’t it, so that’s how it (the series name) came about. I had bought that number plate way back in 1972, so it was very lucky I’d bought that number plate then.
JM: You were also contracted to do the VoxAC30 re-issues?
Jim Marshall: Yes, because that had gone through 7 different companies earlier who tried to make the AC30′s and 15′s and none of them established the real sound. And although I did not want to do the Vox AC30 and 15, it was a challenge to me because I knew if anybody could do it, we could re-create the original Vox sound which we’ve done. Everybody else gradually before us got worse until Rose-Morris did it and that was a disaster!
JM: What’s the secret to the enduring success of Marshall amps?
Jim Marshall: Well it’s having a good design team as I have now, probably the best in the world and sticking to the original sound. The original sound MUST be in the unit somewhere. Although with the Marshall amps these days, you know, you can choose what sound you like out of it, it can be country and western, jazz, rock and roll etc.
Jim Marshall: Exactly what we’re always tried to do, you know, it’s to produce the best in the world and keep the established Marshall sound going through because that’s what all the rock and rollers and heavy metal youngsters want. But to try and please all musicians too, that’s all we want to do and to keep the quality as it is now…the best.
JM: What has been the highlight of your career?
Jim Marshall: Well I suppose it was the first time I saw Marshall on television.
JM: You would have many stories to tell. Which one in particular is your favorite?
Jim Marshall: I suppose the best one is of course, in regards to my greatest ambassador and that was Jimi Hendrix. He was playing at Ronnie Scott’s in London and Mitch (Mitchell) was on drums with him, but the group that was playing there at the time were all using Marshall and he said “I’ve got to meet this Jim Marshall because my name is James Marshall as well”. So Mitch brought him into my shop and Jimi said to me, “I’ve got to have Marshall amplification”. And I thought, “Christ!, another American wanting something for nothing!”. But fortunately he said ” I don’t want anything given to me. I want to pay the full retail price but what I do want is service wherever I am in the world”. I thought, “Christ, that’s going to be a tough one” because we were only dealing with France, Germany and Canada at the time. They were the only places I had distribution, but his roadie at the time, came and spent two weeks in the factory learning how to change the bias and change the tubes or valves if they went down and do simple soldering. And we were never called out once by Jimi Hendrix. He actually purchased 4 complete stage set-ups to have in different places in the world so he would not have to transport any too far. And that’s one of the best stories of the company.
Open a CD recorded in Nashville from the last few years and it’s a pretty good bet that Tom Bukovac has played guitar on it – Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, Sheryl Crow, Leann Rimes, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and the list goes on…
There’s a reason he appears on so many albums…the guy can play! Great tone, feel and a bang up guy to boot – Quite literally he is one of the top of ‘go to’ players if you need some guitar and a hook for your track!
No formal lessons, my older brother plays and he showed me some stuff to get me started. I just kinda took it from there, spent a lot of time learning parts off records by ear…. lots of old Beatles and Yes stuff.
How important is a knowledge of theory and sight reading in your job?
In Nashville where I live it’s not very important at all…I can’t read a single note of music and it hasn’t slowed me down one bit. If I lived in LA or NYC it would be much more important to read, because of all the jingle and soundtrack session work there.
Obviously as a studio player you have to be able to cover a lot of ground tone wise. I’ve seen pics of various rigs with you using pedals, rack gear, multiple heads (bogner, matchless, marshall etc). Does that change regularly? Do you take everything to a session and work from there or?
I am constantly changing things around…it’s an illness really! I get bored with sounds easily…I never want to do the same thing too long. For a long time I was doing the big 100 watt amp and 4×12″ cab thing…. but in the last year or so I’ve really made a shift to smaller amps. I’ve got a bunch of old tweed deluxes and princeton reverbs now and I’m getting back to the more snarly, mid rangey, honest guitar tones of the early 70′s. Stuff like you hear on the early ZZ Top or Badfinger records, I’m very excited by raw, less effected sounds these days. Those sounds never go out of style, a good old Gibson straight into a tweed deluxe – that’s about as good as it gets in my book.
You’re a fan of vintage guitars?
Absolutely. I’ve been buying, selling and playing old guitars since I was about 19. I’ve managed to hold on to some really fantastic guitars over the years that I’m very lucky to own. The top of the heap no doubt being a blonde 1960 ES-335 – one of only 209 blonde dot necks ever made! It’s a truly magic instrument on all levels.
In regards to session playing –
What’s the breakdown of reading sessions or notated/set parts as opposed to being asked to just play something that suits the track? And do you always know in advance what will be required?
In Nashville you rarely ever get to hear anything in advance. Like I said before there is no sight reading to deal with we just use “number charts”. These spell out the chord changes by relative intervals, it’s very handy because you can change keys without having to rewrite your chart.
No one ever writes out specific parts for you to play – your job as a session guitar player in Nashville is to come up with hooky guitar parts on the fly, in an attempt to make something interesting out of songs that usually have very little harmonic content or unique chord progressions written into them and it can be very difficult at times.
Is there any full band live tracking or just overdubs?
We usually track with a full band and then I usually go in later and spend a couple days on each record doing guitar overdubs after the fact. I really enjoy that part (ESPECIALLY when I have a great engineer to work with), most of the producers that hire me give me a lot creative freedom in the overdubbing process. The engineer, in my opinion is without a doubt THE most important guy on the whole session – he can make or break any musical situation. There simply is no group of top notch musicians in the world that can overcome a terrible engineer and I’ve been on so many sessions that have been destroyed by incompetent engineers, it’s truly heartbreaking. Adversely, when you get a great engineer everything is just SO easy – it’s like going to a nice resort spa or something.
Do you have a home studio? Ever work from home and ftp sessions?
I do have a studio but I’m usually too busy working in other places to ever use it and I’ve never done an ftp session.
You obviously do your majority of work in Nashville. Do you ever work in other areas – LA, New York etc? Any differences between the recording scenes?
Having worked with a huge list of great artists, a lot of guitar players get drawn to you work with Keith Urban and Dann Huff. With them being great players in their own right it must be interesting to work in those situations and hear what they’ve played and then lay down your own stuff?
Lastly, when will your Myspace blog ‘Session Man’ be transformed into a big budget Hollywood style Blockbuster with fast cars, sassy girls and the general frivolity and hijinks that the session world is no doubt associated with?
I’m praying that all will heal and I’ll be able to get back to my normal sloppy self eventually.
About Nick Brown
I’m a guitarist currently residing in Melbourne, Australia although I grew up in the small but awesome town of Yinnar (go on Google it!!!). I do a number of different gigs as well as teaching and writing for magazines such as Mixdown and Australian Guitar. I’m a huge music fan (rock/pop/jazz/fusion/latin/country/blues etc) and love (trying) to keep up to date with new gear (pedals/amps/guitars/players). Feel free to email me or checkout my MySpace!