Ever wondered what makes one guitar so different from the other one? Is it the feel of the neck, fretboard, or is it the sound from the pick-ups? The answer is probably all of these elements. If you have several Stratocasters, play something and record it (or put it on a loop) and listen back and be surprised how different (or similar) they can sound. Do this with the naked ear and you probably think they all sound the same as the differences are in the details. Why do these variations sound so different. The answer goes back to what I mentioned before about fretboard, neck, pick-ups and bodyshape.
The Stratocaster is probably one of the easiest guitar to modify since most of the parts of the guitar will come apart. Want to try a neck with a different profile? Just swap the neck for the one you would like to try and see how it feels like. Playing different guitars makes you aware of how different they can feel and sound. By changing the parts you can get close to the guitar you really like. In a way it is an experiment because the “perfect” guitar simply does not exhist.
It is possible to build your own guitar from parts as a D-I-Y project. Another way (and much easier) is to get a budget guitar and to upgrade slowly some of the parts you feel are lacking in quality. The pick-ups may be the most obvious choice when it comes to changing parts. What about the neck? Before you do anything with your budget guitar make sure the guitar is set-up as well as it can be to match your playing style. All too often these guitars do not get the time they need to play right. Most of these guitars end up with beginners and most people may play these guitars a little while before they move on to something better (and more expansive) A sloppy set-up will set any guitar apart from one with a proper set-up. Guitars can play how you want them to be, any guitar, budget or top-notch. The magic lies in how you preform the set-up and how well you are at comparing your budget guitar to something of much better quality.
Once your guitar is set-up as you like it to play listen carefully to what is lacking: Are the pick-ups honky, microphonic, lacking any detail? Swapping the pick-ups will make a huge difference in the sound of the guitar. What about the body and the neck? Play the guitar without any amp, and listen out how well the guitar resonates. Play some open chords, do they ring out or do they get dull very soon?
Guitar sounds how I like it but……………the neck may be a bit akward to play. As mentioned before, necks come in different profiles. Check what it is you do not like and look into a neck with a different profile.
Once you have upgraded most parts you may still not like the sound and feel of the guitar, but by doing all this work you have gained some insight in what creates the sound and feel of the guitar. Move on to next project or get happy with what you have? It is all up to you!
Happy modifying. Hope to catch you soon again. Eddie
If you have been playing guitar for about three to four years and you still only use the open postion this article is for you: Why not try playing your open chords in a higher postion to get some variety in your playing? Single string melodies in open position? Move them all the way up to the twelfth position and start playing them there.
Once you start to play in higher positions you will notice that the position of your wrist will be different, you will need to adjust how you hold the guitar. Using a strap is a good habit, it will help you to adjust your wrist position even without too much thinking. Keep your strap low enough so you can still move the guitar around, having the strap too low will cause some difficulty getting up to those higher positions. Yes I know, Slash places his foot on his monitor speaker to bring the guitar up when he reaches out for those higher notes, you could also have your strap a bit higher so you can actually reach those notes without too much bother.
It is possible to play your open chords in higher positions as well. The CAGED system, using barrechords of well-known open chordshapes, works wonders for doing so. If you have never played your guitar in higher positions it may feel a little strange, but it is only natural since you are not used to playing up there. Try to get used to using the whole fretboard instead on just a few positions, it will help your music, musicianship and your guitar playing in general.
Any starter or untrained guitar player will use their fingers in an uneconomical way. Let me explain what I mean: Most people will use three, or maybe even two, fingers of their fretting hand. The Pink is often overlooked, since it is the weakest in dexterity of all our fingers. My very first article on this blog was just about fingering and what you can do to overcome typical fingering issues.
I cannot stress enough that it is a must to use all your fingers, regardless of the style you are into. It may be obvious that people who want to get into playing fast guitarsolos will need to use all their fingers to help them along the way, but also the singer-songwriters who may mainly play chords on an acoustic guitar: The right fingering will make your playing so much better and easier. Once you get into the habit it is a joy for the rest of your life.
Typical Fingering Issues:
~ Not using Pink at all, because pink may be weak. Overcome this by working on excercises which focus on getting more dexterity in your pink.
~ Position Shifts: Often people loose the smoothness of their playing when it comes to moving from one position up to the next one on the fretboard. You can overcome this by playing scales which cover two ocataves over one or two strings. Most of the position shifts will be done by first finger: First finger moves up to next position, fingers will be ready to carry on playing in new position.
~ Keep your fingers down on fretboard at ALL times. Watch videos of guitarplayers who can really play and look at their first finger of their fetting hand: It will never NEVER leave the fretboard. Similar to driving a car, you never take your hands off the steering wheel.
~ Stringbending: Bend with your Ringfinger of fretting hand using your Index-and Middle finger to support the bend. I often see beginners who try to bend using one finger, and often they will use Index or Middle finger. Yes it can be done, but using Ring finger will be easier. Again watch experienced guitarplayers to see how they do it.
Yes it does not exhist, nothing is correct, there are always exeptions in what fingers to use and how to use them. There is something like “Common habits which works for most guitarplayers” You should try to get into these habits since it will help you. Once your fingering is neat and tidy it will become second nature and will help you with your playing and your music will start to sound much better.
For this article a short sum-up what is meant by “reading music”, what it can do for you and your guitarplaying and what it cannot do.
Some people have the idea that musicians and guitarplayers who can read music are high up the ranks of music making. My simple view is that reading is a communication tool which gets you musical ideas across. The ideal communication tool is to have someone around you who can show you what to play or how to go about things, since that is not really a pratical obtion people learn to read, and the reading is there to pick up new ideas or it is a way of telling what the orchestra is about to play. Imagine the following situation: You enter a hall to play with about 15 other musicians, some are guitarplayers, some bassplayers, some are hornplayers who play Saxophone, Trumpet ect. There are even some people who play the piano. All those people are going to play a piece of music within the next 15 minutes. The leader of the band hands out sheet music to each individual player. Each sheet is specific for each instrument. Now that the leader has handed out the music, the orchestra is ready to play the next piece of music. All what is needed from the leader is to count off the tempo and the band is ready for take-off.
In the above example it is pretty obvious what the reading skills do for the orchestra: It speeds up the process of making music. If none of the above musicians would be able to read it would take the band leader a lot longer to get the music off the ground: The leader would need to explain what is needed from each instrument, how to play particular phrases ect. All of this is given in the music notation. Great, now the rehearsing can start. Having the sheetmusic and being able to read does not mean the musicians can all do it on their own and will not make any mistakes. No, the bandleader will still need to guide the musicians in certain places where the sheetmusic fall short: Notatation can only do so much, and musical notation is an approximation of what the music sounds like. There is still a lot of scope for interpretation and individual expression and skill. Any good band leader will bring out the best in the musicians to get them to preform the music to the highest, possible standard.
Once you have read the above you may say: “I will never play in an orchestra of about 15 people” “I will not really play any classical music” “I will only play guitar for myself” Once you have spoken out any of the above you may still feel: “Reading is not really for me as it does not apply to what I want to do”
Let us look at the next example: Let us say you picked up the guitar because you want to learn to play Rock. You bought your first guitar and amp. Both of them were accompanied with a book called: “Learn to Play 10 Classic Rock Riffs”. The book came along with a CD, tab. and traditional musical notation. You first started listening to the CD, got impressed with some of those riffs, went to guitar and tried to copy what you heard………………………hmmm that actually takes some time: Need to listen, then find those notes on fretboard of the guitar and…………….Hang on there is a book. Once you start reading the book things become clearer, there is the tab which tells you where to put your fingers and there is the traditional notation which tells you about the rhythm. After a few weeks you manage to play some of those riffs from the book quite well, you no longer need to look at the book to play those riffs. Well done!
From the above you can see that reading is not only traditional music notation. Tabalature and chordcharts all from a part of reading, they help you to understand and communicate what is going on musically.
Advantages of Reading Music:
~ It gives the player a foundation of what music is about, how music works. It gives you an idea about rests, bars, staves, dots, repeatsigns ect. All things you do hear and cannot see until you put them into music notation.
~ It will speed up the process of making music together in ANY bandsituation.
~ Reading gives you the ability to play music you have never heard before.
~ Reading can be used as a memory aid, since it is on paper you can always go back to it and play it again at a later stage.
Reading, What Reading?
When talking about reading I include traditional music notation, tabalature and chortcharts, since all of them will tell you what is going on in the music. All of these forms need some time getting used to. Chordcharts may be the easiest to get on with and traditional music notation may take the longest to learn. Once you can use any of them you will be using it for the rest of your playing life.
Most people will be introduced to tab and chordcharts when they are looking for instruction to play any of their favourite songs. Traditional music notation is usually included in any starter tutor book. The notes you are introduced to are taught gradually and will usually be picked up fairly easy by learners of any age.
If you have been playing guitar for a long time and have only been using chord charts you may be curious to learn about tab for solos or riffs or get into some basic music notation which introduces you to simple melodies being played on the E and B string of the guitar.
Once you have read all this remember one thing: Any musical notation is an approximation of the music. Musical notation in itself is a dead tool, you need to make it come alive with your instrument or voice. Once you have learned a musical idea from sheetmusic it is a good habit to get into the feel of the music, forget about the notation, tab or chortchart, and just play to get into the music and to make it sound how you want the music to sound like. Beginners often forget this and keep looking at the music and do not really get into the feel of whatever they are playing. The endresult is the music, not the ability to read!
For this short article, again, a few tips to develop your solos.
Often you can grab yourself a note anywhere on the fretboard, it is possible to construct a scale around this note. For any melodic pattern you often will not play a whole scale, you could just play a handful of notes. You could repeat those notes within the scale, or take the notes up an octave into a different position. It is also possible to play the same notes a string up. You may find that you are no longer playing in the same key, but it will work if you are doing it right: The new notes will sound as part of your previous phrase, you could quickly play those, out-of-key notes, before you return back to the key of the piece you are playing, using some of your original notes.
It is a good habit to be able to play melodies without any backing of chords. Melodies which can stand on their own, without support of chords, are often stronger than notes you may use to enhance chords. When you are playing in this mode you may even find yourself composing whole songs (or songideas) based on melodies. Try if for yourself to see if it works for you.
In the previous blogarticle I discussed the CAGED system, how this system makes it possible to move open chordshapes around on the fretboard to create new chords. For this blogarticle I will go into detail how you can use the CAGED system for moveable scalepatterns. Movable scalepatterns work like moveable, open chordshapes: One scalepattern can be played all over the fretboard to create different keys for the same scale. Very useful for improvising and getting to know the notes on the fretboard better.
Here is a tab. scaleform which uses the A-shape. The example is in the scale of C major:
How do you know this scalepattern is in C major?The first note on the A string is the Rootnote, it is the 3rd fret on the A string and it makes it the note of C. When you play through all the notes you will find that the last note ( fret 5 on the G string) is also a C, but one Octave higher than the C on the A string.
How do you turn this scalepattern into a scale with a different key? Simply move the pattern around to the right note (= Key of Scale) of the A string and play pattern again. Now you can play same scale but get the sound of a different key.
What makes this scalepattern using the A- shape? When you look at the given example in key of C you will notice that fret 5 on the D string and fret 5 on the G string form part of the A-shape chord. Play those same two notes 3 frets down and you play actually part of an A chord. The shape you visually play creates the shape of a known open chord. Use this knowledge as a memory aid to help you navigate around the fretboard when playing in different keys.
Here another example. this one is a tab. for moveable D-shape scalepattern. The example is in the key of F
Again as before, this is a one Ocatve scalepattern in a major key. The key is F because of the 3rd fret on D string. Play through all the notes and you find fret 6 on the B string being an F again, but one Ocatve higher than the first F.
Why is this scale pattern using the D-shape? Play fret 5 G string and fret 6 B string at same time, add fret 5 on the high E string, and you actually play a D-shape chord in they of F. Move this chordshape down 3 frets and you will find your well-known open D chord! Move around the scalepattern to play scale in different keys. Keep checking the Rootnote to find the right key for the scale you need.
For this example a tab. for a moveable E-shape scalepattern. This time two Ocataves and the example is in the key of G.
Rootnotes for this two-octave scalepattern are fret 3 on the low E string, fret 5 on the D string and fret 3 on the high E string.
Simply move scalepattern around to play in different key.
What makes this scalepattern using E-shape? Play fret 3 E string, fret 5 A string, fret 5 D string and fret 4 on G string at same time, and you play a G chord using E-shape. Move chordshape 4 frets down and you will find yourself playing an open E chord: the first note is now the low, open E string.
There are two open chordshapes left: The C-shape and G-shape. See if you can find the moveable scalepatterns for those two open chords for yourself. Check the scaleshapes against the chordshapes to help you see why you actually play scales in the chordshapes of C and G
When it comes to taking up lessons there are different categories of people: There are the ones who are complete beginners who never touched a guitar before. Some of these students may be very young, some may be a bit older. Both the young and older need to learn similar skills: Getting to grips with the guitar and making some pleasant, pleasing sounds with it for their own enjoyment. I cannot stress enough the enjoyment factor: We play music for fun, whether you are a pro or a beginner it all starts off and ends with fun. We simply play music and guitar because we enjoy what it does to us. We get a buzz out of play, and people listening to someone playing pick up on the vibe.
The next group of people are the folk who have played a bit in the past. They may have some experience but they may not have played for a long, long time for all kind of reasons. The people in this group need to be reunited with the guitar, the funfactor, they need to revisit their former skills and build on them as quickly as possible.
For any kind of group of people, my task, as a tutor, is to motivate and inspire any of these people, introduce them to the wonderful world of the guitar and the sounds it can make, the various playing techniques we use to bring out such sounds. Usually the inspiration process does not take too long, however, people taking up lessons need to realise that it may take a little time to get into their lessons. The taking time comes from being introduced to a new world, a world with new habits, jargon and culture. It does help if students are madly in love with the idea of playing the guitar. Usually this is not a problem, but sometimes students need a little help in the form of being shown different kind of guitars and what some of these guitars sound like when played in a certain way.
The next group of people are the students with experience, but they may feel that they need to learn new skills to improve their playing. People who fall into this category should think about what it is what they want to learn, since they can already play. The better students are in communicating their needs to easier it is to help them quickly. Not everyone is good at expressing what it is they would like to get out of their guitarlessons. Often I can spot quickly what a student needs, however what a student needs may not be what a student wants. Again, it boild down to communication. Most of the time this is not a problem and does not take up too much time as well.
For this article a few short ideas how you improve and develop your melodic idea.
Most beginner students of the guitar will start off with open chords. Chords form the basis of many songs, and playing chords gives people the idea they made the start with playing a song. Why not try playing some simple single, string solos? The problem most people will have in the very beginning: Where are the notes I want to play on the fretboard? A simple and enjoyable way to overcome this problem is: Sing a simple melody, try to find the first note anywhere on the fretboard and work the rest of your melody around this note. Most of the time you will find that you can play the whole melody in the same place as where you found that single note which starts off your melody.
If you make a routine out of doing the above you will develop a natural instinct of where to play your melodies.
Singing notes is all very fine, but what about if you do not really sing? Anything you can do? You could play the vocal melodies of the songs you listen to. Find a good melodic song, try to hum the melody back. Once you can hum the melody, try to find the first note anywhere on the fretboard, and work the rest of the melody around this note.
Often vocal melodies will contain ideas you may be able to use for simple solo ideas. Use these ideas next to your scale practise to improve your solos.
Next to vocal melodies you could look at basslines. Go for melodic basslines, try to sing (or hum) the bassline first, find the first note of the bassline anywhere on the fretboard and play rest of the bassline in the area around the first note. Basslines will often be played on the low E and A string, but there is no reason why you could not take those basslines up a few ocataves and play them right at the 12th position. The idea will probably not sound like the original bassline, but it may still work as a melodic idea for a solo.
Working out proper solos is the next idea you may want to look at. Sometimes people are put off by working out solos as they may feel this is far too advanced for them, hence my idea of playing basslines and vocal ideas as solos. The simpler the idea the better. A melody which is humable is better than one which is not as it is more melodic and easier to remember.
Once you start to see where to look for your melodies and solos you will find there is no end: Melodies are anywhere and you can use anything for your solos. Solos do not have to be melodic, they could also be made up of pure noise with some effects. Some people may think making solos out of noise is easy, that is until you try it. Anything creative you will try on the guitar is an artform in itself and it takes dedication, skill and motivation to get better at any of this.
Ever feel you are bending your Stratocaster out of tune by resting your palm too often on the bridge? Ever wondered what would happen if you were to take that tremolo unit out of your Strat all together? Is it actually possible to fasten the tremolo without removing it from your guitar?
It is possible to add more springs to the tremolo unit, this will make the tremolo feel stiffer and you are less likely to bend the strings out of tune by accident. If you want to block off the tremolo all together you could install a little piece of wood in between the body of the guitar and the tremolo unit. By doing so you disable the tremolo unit and will no longer be able to use it.
Once the tremolo unit is blocked off you may want to remove the springs from the tremolo unit. If you do this you will alter the tone: The Strat without any springs does have a more “woody tone”, it will sound less lively and a tad duller. The best way to experience this is by playing the guitar without the amp and listen to its sound. Attach the springs back and your tone will ,again, be a bit more lively.
You can test all of this for yourself: If you have a few Stratocasters you can loop one simple idea, loop this idea using the different guitars, including the one where you removed the springs from and added a piece of wood at the back. Make sure you are using same pick-up and play same idea. Changes are when you do not record the experiment you may not hear the differencens very well. Loop it to record your ideas and sit back and listen, you will be surprised with what you hear.
Doing this little test is proof that the wood of your guitar does have an impact on its tone, although some people will claim that the pick-ups have more impact on the sound of the electric rather than anything else. I also would like to add that the springs and the design of the Fulcrum tremolo are responsible for that unique sound of the Strat. Of course, any guitar with a tremolo unit will have an impact on its sound, overal it makes the sound lighter and lively as opposed to fixed bridged guitars like Les Pauls and the likes, which tend to sound darker and bassier.
Enoy your little experiment and hope to see soon again. Eddie
Before I go into why you should want to work on your speed let us first have a listen to some guitarplayers who can dance all over the fretboard:
First here is Charlie Christian: Clean Sound, most of his notes are picked, he plays in position, does have lines where he plays over one string, does have an amazing feel for that swing.
Okay now here a more modern version of some fast playing: Edward van Halen from a recent 2013 show. Very good video to get an insight in some of his techniques: Watch his stiff wrist when he plays the very fast picking with pick at the beginning. Watch how he keeps first finger in place. When he taps with his left hand he uses his right hand to mute the strings, in this way he can keep the sound clean without any rumble from resonant, open strings. Lots of false harmonics to get that bell-sound, also a lot of pinched harmonics. Knowing where you go on the fretboards is a must, especially when you are improvising. Listen to the studio recording of Eruption and to this version with all the little ideas in between. Observe the violin-like sounds from the volume swells. He does have amazing control over his sound.
Here a video of Joe Satriani, which give a great insight into his playing as well: Lots of melodic ideas and impros over one string which he shifts to positions or move up into a different registre, observe his Wah pedal technique he uses to get his notes to come out in the mix a bit better. Great to see those harmonics he gets when he depresses the Whammy bar, sometimes he uses the pick-up as extra fret, and uses the tremo bar to get those notes to come up better. Again observe the position of the first finger, it never leaves the fretboard! Once you start practising your excersices your fingers will get used to some of these habits, but you may need to sit down and spent some serious time with the guitar.
Okay now for something different, this is just about some fun, not really about guitarplaying. Had not seen this one before, you may have…At the end of the day your guitarplaying should just be about fun and something like this may inspire…………….
Another one in the same category: Playing very fast is alright, but can you dance is the question?
Okay maybe enough videos to illustrate the idea what fast playing is all about. You may think : “Fast playing is not for me, I will never be able to achieve what some of those guys do” Well you will be surprised at what you can achieve when you start working on this issue serously. It is also one of the reasons why I want to highlight some of this: To play guitar well you need to work on your playing, the faster you can play the better you will be at playing at a slower pace. A little bit like driving a powerful car: You do not need to race all the time, but having all that power in your car makes driving very comfortable ( Yes I know, let us not talk about your fuelbill but really, that is another matter)
Why would you want to be able to play fast? To create variety in your playing. The danger is wanting to do it all the time, which will reduce its effect. Variety in your sound can be achieved through use of effects and being able to play fast is just another techniqual tool you may want to use to add variety and drama in your playing.
Fast guitarplayers may not be in fashion at the moment, but you do not just play guitar to be in the latest magazines. Trends do change all the time and having some fast chops can never harm you, it may cost you some time to achieve them but see it as part of your journey with the guitar through the land of music.
There are many ways you can go about in achieving speed in your playing, but most guitar players will try something like:
@ Play slow at first @ Hear and think about every note, serious business I know, but it will help you @ Be patient, your playing ability will grow over time, but this is for life, just do not give up after two weeks of work, see this as a long term goal, or better, as something which can be worked on in all stages of your guitarplaying development, depending on what you go for at the time. @ Use warm-ups and slowly build up your playing from there, try avoiding to rush things too soon. @ Use a metronome to keep a mental check of where you are within the bar. Once you start using them you will get used to them and start to feel the beats.
What Material to Use for Building Up Your Speed?:
Anything really, from scales to set patterns, your own riffs you may make up, short phrases. Anything you can concentrate on to get your actions and timing in good shape.
I mentioned the use of metronome before somewhere on this blog.
When you are relatively new to the guitar you may have wondered what it is when your playing is not always the same every day: Your muscles do feel different at different times of the day, warm ups do help when you have not played before, use them!. There is also the fact: “Some days are better than others” Even when your technique is good you have to accept there will be moments you can play faster and better than at other moments. It is quite a common thing for players to tense up when they go for fast solos, the better your are a keeping yourself relaxed the better your notes will come through. Constant work on your technique will make your fingers work more consistently.
Whenever you listen to some music ask yourself: “Where is this particular idea played on the guitar?” “Are the phrases played in position or is it mostly over one string?” This approach does not only help your with analysing someone else’s playing, it will also give you a better understanding of the different ways of playing the guitar. Hopefully when you play yourself, you will have a choice of how you want to sound like, or what you want to do musically with the guitar.
Let me leave you with another guitarplayer who gives us an insight in some of his guitartechnique. Some very useful tips for beginners about playing patterns over one string: You do not really need to know the notes (yes it helps but………….) just remember the shape and repeat it over other strings. Some sweep picking ideas ( which I will highlight in another article) Watch his right hand wrist: Very small, neat movements when he picks through some of those fast scales, great insight for any beginner!! Also a bit of a rolling movement with his thumb (Close ups towards 4.50 minutes in video)