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Guffey’s Music Manifesto!!!

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Guffey’s Music Manifesto!!!

 

This post refers to guitars a lot (I am, after all, a guitar player), but the contents cross over to any instrument.  I’ve used this manifesto as a teaching aid for decades to try to get my students into a headspace that encourages them to always focus on the important big picture stuff, even as they get further and further into the many fine details of playing music at a high level.  I hope you find this article helpful! -Guff

I love guitars.  I love everything about them.  The way they look, the way they feel, the way they sound.  I love the way they make me feel when I play them.  Playing guitar has added so much meaning, depth and joy to my life.  I’ve never felt that I had a lot of natural talent on the guitar (the concept of “natural talent” will be the subject of a future blog post), but my pure love of music and the instrument gave me the strength and determination to put in thousands upon thousands of hours of work and practice.  I am always working as hard as I can to maximize my talents and abilities, and it is a lifelong journey.
Although I am primarily a self-taught player (I estimate that I had learned about 80% of what I know now before I attended music school), many people I have encountered in my life have given me great advice and pointed me in the right direction musically. I am eternally grateful to them, and I feel a karmic responsibility to do the same thing for other musicians when given the opportunity.  I enjoy nothing more than sharing the things these people taught me, as well as the things I’ve learned on my own, with others who feel the same as I do about music.
While I’m most certainly not the best musician or guitarist around, I do feel that in my 30+ years of playing, I have developed certain approaches and strategies that could possibly help out other people on their own journey with music.  In my opinion, there is no right way or wrong way to play music or your instrument, and what I present here is simply a set of guiding principles that have worked for me (and many other musicians).  My goal as a teacher is to provide my students with the tools and philosophies that will allow them to develop their own unique approach to music and their instrument.
If you hold true to these philosophies, the technique and ability will come much faster, not to mention much easier.  The battlefront is in your head, not in your hands.  If you master the mental part, your hands have no choice but to follow.
OK, here we go…

 


PHILOSOPHIES, PART 1

 

  • BE YOURSELF:  Self expression is absolutely the most important factor in any artistic endeavor.  Technical or simple, polished or raw, quiet or loud, mellow or aggressive, it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that your playing provides the listener with an honest glimpse of your thoughts, your experiences, and what is in your heart, positive or negative.  If you accomplish that, your music is good.  Period.  Communication with the listener creates a bond between artist and audience, and true communication can only be achieved with honesty.  Give 100% of yourself when you play.  People will notice.
  • BE A MUSICIAN:  Just because you can play an instrument DOES NOT automatically make you a musician.  I’m perfectly capable of cutting someone open with a scalpel, but that in no way makes me a surgeon. It’s the same thing, y’know?.  I know some technically amazing players who are terrible musicians, and I know people with very limited instrumental skills that make incredible music.  The goal of a musician is to make great music, and I’m a firm believer in the notion that there are many roads to that destination.  That being said, all true musicians have several things in common.  A musician knows how to listen and react to the people they are playing with.  A musician is someone who puts the song ahead of his or her ego.  A musician is someone who loves and respects music.  Always strive to be a musician.
  • LISTEN:  Ears are far more important than hands or fingers.  Listen, HARD.  Listen to every aspect of a song.  Focus in on the hi-hat, listen to the production, analyze the bass line, feel the way the notes push and pull against each other, explore positive and negative space, listen to how one part affects every other part, listen to absolutely everything.  Examine every minute detail, and see how they all affect the big picture.  If you listen closely enough, all mysteries will eventually reveal themselves.
  • STUDY:  Any information about music will provide you with raw material.  Read books, magazines and interviews.  Watch videos and documentaries.  Go to as many shows as possible.  Dig deep for things you’ve never heard.  Listen to the music you love, and discover and study their influences.  Then discover and study their influences’ influences.  Never, ever stop learning.
  • STEAL, BUT NEVER IMITATE:  Steal as much as you can from any musician you encounter, but never forget to put your own spin on what you have stolen.  Every riff or lick has thousands of possible variations.  Exploit them.  “Style” can be explained as filtering your influences through your experiences and everything that makes you a unique individual.  In a very basic way, this principle can be illustrated by equations like this:  Albert King + Curtis Mayfield + Hippie Culture = Jimi Hendrix, or Aerosmith + The Sex Pistols + The Sunset Strip = Guns’n’Roses.  What’s in your DNA?  What equation could come close to defining YOU???

 
PHILOSOPHIES, PART 2: THE FIVE “T”s


These are five principles that I feel are absolutely essential to being a good musician.  I’m listing them in order of importance, but don’t neglect any of them.  Focus on this stuff in your practicing, and everything will turn out just fine.  I promise!!!

  • TIMING:  It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.  Believe that.  Music should make people move, and it should also take them for a ride.  Human beings have internal clocks, and the listener will notice IMMEDIATELY when there is an unintentional hiccup or variation in your playing.  Lock in to the beat, AND DON”T LET GO.  Practice with your bandmates until you are airtight.  Whenever it is possible, practice with a metronome or drum beat.  It will keep you honest.  Keep your playing as even as humanly possible until it becomes second nature.
  • TASTE:  I define taste as knowing how to play exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, and knowing when it’s better to play nothing at all.  Play exactly what is necessary.  No more, no less.
  • TOUCH:  You’ve certainly heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”.  The same holds true for music.  It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.  If you are playing something aggressive, you should be strangling your instrument with everything you have, right on the verge of breaking it to bits.  If you are playing something soft and pretty, you should caress your instrument like it’s your child sleeping in your arms.  Touch is what puts emotion in your playing, and emotion is what turns notes into music.
  • TONE:  Your touch determines 90% of your tone.  Eddie VanHalen sounds like Eddie VanHalen no matter what guitar and amp he is playing, and you should, too.  However, that last 10% of the tone equation is VERY important.  First of all, if you are happy with the way your equipment sounds, you will automatically play better.  Second of all, a unique tone grabs the attention of the listener.  There are no rights and wrongs, just play tons of stuff and experiment until you find what works for you.
  • TECHNIQUE:  I don’t define technique as pure instrumental facility.  In my opinion, a musician only needs enough technique to be able to play HIS OR HER OWN music better than anyone else on the planet.  Does it matter that Angus Young can’t play sweep arpeggios or do 8-finger tapping?  No, because he can play the holy heck out of Angus Young licks, and that’s all that matters.  People talk smack about Meg White’s drumming abilities, yet there is no other person in the world that can make those White Stripes songs come alive the way she can. There are many, many guitarists who can play the instrument better than I can, but NOBODY can play my songs as good as I play them, and that is the ultimate goal.  Do what YOU do, better than anyone.

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Buying Great Sounding Guitar Gear, CHEAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Buying Great Sounding Guitar Gear, CHEAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

The Cheapest Good Guitar or Bass is the One You Already Have


What do I mean by that?  I’ll tell you.  Although the wood and construction of a guitar or bass do play a part in the overall tone equation, a HUGE percentage of what an instrument sounds like is determined by the electronics.  Simple things like upgrading the pickups, pots and other electrical components can make an incredible difference in your guitar’s tone.  Luckily, this is also relatively inexpensive, at least when compared to buying a new guitar! 

The initial quality of entry-level guitars and basses has never been higher.  25 years ago, a $200 instrument was pretty much unplayable. These days, with advances in CNC technology and the proliferation of automated instrument factories overseas, you can get a pretty decent instrument for not a lot of cash, and for a small additional investment in parts and labor, your budget guitar can play as well as an instrument that costs 5 times as much!  The areas that usually can stand to be improved on are tone, tuning stability, and playability.
Making sure that your instrument reliably stays in tune is dependent on two things: quality tuning keys and a perfectly cut and installed nut.  99% of all tuning problems originate at these two often-overlooked locations (and of the two, 90% of tuning problems happen at the nut).  Again, these are relatively inexpensive upgrades that will make your instrument infinitely better.
Once you have purchased your upgraded pickups and electronics, quality tuners, and a properly sized nut blank, remember these words: 
TAKE YOUR INSTRUMENT TO A REPUTABLE REPAIR TECH, AND HAVE THEM DO ALL THE INSTALLATION WORK, INCLUDING A FULL SET-UP AND FRET-DRESS.  DO NOT SKIP THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

Leave this to the pros, or put in the time and effort to become a pro yourself.  This part, unfortunately, isn’t so cheap.  However, when you play your perfectly set-up guitar for the first time, you’ll know it was money well spent.
A set-up includes setting the intonation (adjusting the bridge saddles so each string plays in tune up and down the fretboard), adjusting the truss rod (the metal rod inside the guitar neck that counteracts the tension from the strings and keeps your neck from warping), setting the guitar’s action (the height of each string from the fretboard), and a general check up of the electronics.  This should be done every few months on guitars that get played often.
A fret-dress (also known as crowning or leveling) isn’t necessary every time you get a set-up, but should be done at least once a year on guitars that see a lot of action.  As you press the strings on the fretboard (hundreds of thousands of times throughout the course of a year), the strings start to make small impressions in the frets.  We all have our favorite chords and keys, and you’ll notice that certain areas become more worn than others (if you have never had a fret-dress on your guitar, take a minute now to really look at your frets and be horrified).  When this fretwear goes unchecked long enough, it will be very difficult to get your guitar to intonate properly and play in tune in certain spots.  A fret-dress shaves a microscopic amount of metal from each fret and reshapes it so every fret is perfectly level with the rest.  There are only so many times frets can be leveled and crowned before they are just worn out, in which case you’ll need a re-fret.


Resources: Parts


www.guitarfetish.com:  a full line of quality replacement parts of all kinds for guitars and basses.  GFS pickups are an excellent value.
www.callahamguitars.com:  Super high end stuff.  This is the place for upgrade CTS pots, switchcraft jacks and switches, high quality capacitors and vintage style cloth covered wire.
www.seymourduncan.com:  The gold standard in replacement pickups.
www.rsguitarworks.net:  Pre-wired electronics upgrade kits for most guitars, as well as individual parts
www.tonepros.com:  The best in replacement parts for Gibson-style guitars

Buying Used:  The ONLY way to go!!!


In all honesty, you’re going to need to sink some money into any used OR new piece of gear that you buy in order to make it play and sound its best.  Just remember to factor that into your decision making.  It’s better to pay for better quality used gear that has depreciated a little than to buy less expensive stuff new.  Musical instruments are relatively simple things, and with proper care and maintenance they will be useful for a long, long time.  While there is definitely good, inexpensive gear that can be purchased new, remember the most sought after gear is VINTAGE gear, because it has stood the test of time. 
There are lots of places around Vancouver and Portland that specialize in quality used gear at fair prices.  Here are a few…
Briz Loan and Guitar: 506 Washington St., Downtown Vancouver.  AWESOME shop.  I always find the weirdest, coolest stuff here.  The guys that work there are always listening to Sleep or Neurosis, and they have cute shop dogs.  
Trade-Up Music: 47th and Division and 19th and Alberta in Portland.  Cool people, tons of cool gear.
Centaur Guitar: 28th and Sandy in Portland. Lots of great used stuff, and the best selection of boutique pedals in town.  Kelly and Jason are awesome dudes.
Old Town Guitars: 55 SE 11th Ave. in Portland, around the corner from the Doug Fir.  Specializing in vintage guitars, pedals and amps.  Hank is the man.

Buying Used: Craigslist and Ebay, and Reverb


Vancouver and Portland have thriving music scenes, and our local Craigslist is TEEMING with great deals.  I’ll admit it, I’m a Craigslist junkie.  I check it 20 times a day at least, whether I need gear or not.  I always find killer deals, and I’ve bought and sold thousands of dollars worth of gear over the years.

Some guidelines…

 

  • If you are underage, ALWAYS have your parents make the deal.  There are creeps out there!
  • Know what you’re looking at, and test it thoroughly before you buy it.  Once the cash changes hands, it’s YOURS.
  • HAGGLE.  ALWAYS.  You might not get the person to come down in price, but it never hurts to ask!

Ebay is a different story.  There are auctions and Buy it Now listings, and it takes a little while to get the hang of it.  I suggest just lurking on there for a while until you kind of get the lay of the land.  I do tons of research on Ebay to know what the going price of used gear is looking like at any given time.  You can literally find almost anything on Ebay.  It’s much more involved once you actually want to buy something, however.  You need a PayPal account, and there is shipping involved, plus you never actually get to check out the gear before you buy it.  It has its risks, but overall it usually works out great.
Reverb.com is the newest entry into the online used gear market, and it’s pretty awesome.  It’s kind of like Ebay, but strictly for musical instruments.  Both private sellers and music stores around the country sell on Reverb, and you can find a LOT of cool stuff.  The site also features great articles on gear and interviews with all kinds of musicians.  Highly recommended!

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