5 Most Influential Guitarists

In no particular order I present to you the 5 guitarists who had the biggest impact on my playing.

Kurt Cobain

kurt-cobain-nirvana-1994 This choice might be controversial to some. After all Kurt Cobain wasn’t exceptionally skilled as a guitar player. However his guitar playing for me was the perfect gateway into becoming a guitarist. The fact that his songs weren’t complicated and could easily be learned in their entirety by a beginner was the greatest gift I could have had as a novice. I started playing guitar right around the time I first got into Nirvana, and I was given a catalogue of songs that were not way beyond my abilities to learn as a beginner, and for that I will always have a soft spot in my heart for good ol’ Nirvana.

It does go beyond that though. Kurt Cobain wasn’t only the beginner guitarist’s perfect idol, he epitomised the notion that its not all about playing guitar with great skill. I think he certainly had some technical ability, but his guitar solos were all about energy and feeling. I remember seeing the Live Tonight Sold Out film on VHS as an adolescent, and admiring the sheer awesomeness of the solo to Breed, which he performed writhing on the floor. There was something about that idea, that its more about energy and emotion than technical prowess that has always stuck with me as a guitar player.

I’ve listened to Nirvana so many times, that I probably wouldn’t willingly put them on anymore, but I have everything to thank Kurt Cobain for, because undoubtedly without his influence I would not be a guitarist, and my life would be measurably worse for it.

Jack White

Unlike Nirvana, whose music I absorbed through the influence of my older brothers, the The_White_Stripes_-_Jack_White_01White Stripes were totally my own discovery in that they were among the first music that I took home rather than took from home in some way. For that reason they felt special to me. Like they were my thing.

His songs were simple enough for a beginner to learn, but often also went into more advanced territory. I can remember listening to the guitar solos on Elephant in complete awe. He had a sound that was really raw and manic. The solos on Ball and Biscuit are a prime example. Pure screeching energy. I had to get me some of that.

He was the first guitarist that I consciously tried to emulate with gear, picking up my own Digitech Whammy for that intense high pitched squeal and a EHX Big Muff Pi for the beefy fuzz. I saw them twice before they split, and they were incredible. Jack and Meg White were pure brilliance. I hope they decide to reform their duo sometime.

Tom Morello

Tom+Morello+10th+Anniversary+Benefit+Supporting+xu_ebVPTS61lThere was one album that I listened to on my cassette Walkman more than any other during high school and that was Rage Against the Machine’s first album. There was one sentence in the linear notes that I couldn’t get my head around. “All sounds produced by guitars, bass, drums and vocals” or words to that effect. I didn’t get it. His guitar playing is just unique and set apart from any other.

He can make a guitar sound like a DJ scratching records. Or a helicopter. Or a siren. It’s just incredible how one guy can come up with so many new and unique techniques for playing guitar, as well as come up with some rocking intense riffs to go along with it.

Rage Against the Machine were just a unique, rebellious, funky, heavy, awesome band that opened my mind in terms of the possibilities of the guitar.

Jimi Hendrix

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes right now. But I can’t be honest with myself&NCS_modified=20140918151059&MaxW=640&imageVersion=default&AR-140919042 and not include Jimi on this list. He is still a massive influence on my playing. Every day I sit and noodle trying to emulate his incredible style of fusing lead and rhythm playing (listen to Little Wing for an awesome example.

He just totally revolutionised the guitar and his greatness has not even been remotely challenged by any other guitarist since. You could listen to Jimi Hendrix every day, and spend 30 years learning his sounds and you’ll still find something in there that makes you go ‘how the f**k did he do that?’

So I understand the impulse, and that some people think they are cool when they say ‘Hendrix was overrated’ but the fact of the matter is he invented modern rock guitar and no one has been able to play better since. So shut up and go listen to some Hendrix.

John Frusciante

cad8df0f414112feca6a34a27f3a884eAlthough the Red Hot Chilli Peppers have been on my radar for years, its only been recently that I got into John Frusciante as a guitarist. I think he is easily the greatest living rock guitarist. But I include him on this list more because of how he approaches music.

John Frusciante has an almost religious devotion to music, and he connects with the guitar not only on a purely technical level, but to him it is something more transcendent. You might be put off when he talks about other dimensions and ghosts etc. But his essential message is that the guitar is more than just a piece of wood with strings on it, that it is something you can use to express something, to communicate something, and that the ability to perform music is sacred and transcendent.

I don’t use those terms to mean there is something actually magical or religious about playing the guitar, but that it is something more than just muscle memory and music theory. That it connects with something deeper. If you want some inspiration to grab your guitar, and play it every day with a deep reverence for it then you should get into John Frusciante. Once you get what he is about, you get his guitar playing and you can’t help but be inspired by it.

 

 

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Music Theory Basics: The Major Scale

Music theory is what ties everything together, it makes sense of chords and scales and anything else you are likely to learn about as a guitarist. No matter where you are at with your playing, if you want to realise your full potential as a musician, it is important to know about this stuff. This series of posts should provide you with the basics, and will allow you to further unlock your potential.

There are 12 notes in music. They are as follows:

C  C#  D  D#  E  F  F#  G  G#  A  A# B

You will notice that every note is followed by a sharp (symbolised with a #) except for E and B. A simple way to remember this is that all notes have a sharp except B and E which spells BE! Another thing that you should realise is that every sharp note can also be called a flat which uses a ‘b’ as the symbol. For example C# is also Db. The reason for this will become clear soon, so written with flats instead of sharps the 12 notes are as follows

C  Db  D  Eb  F  Gb  G  Ab  A  Bb  B

This might seem confusing at first, but it will become more clear as we move on.

Every note is an increase in pitch from the last (more detail on this later). After you get to the B note, the next note goes back to C, but this C is a higher pitch. This is known as an octave. This might be a bit confusing, why if there are 12 notes between C and the next C is it called an octave? Well this is because if you remove the sharps/flats the next C is the 8th note. We will come back to this too. First lets get to a visualisation of where the notes are on the guitar neck:

    1         3         5         7         9              12
e||-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E--|
B||-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|
G||-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G--|
D||-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D--|
A||-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A--|
E||-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E--|

You will notice that this diagram only covers up to the 12th fret, this is because there are only 12 notes, so after the 12th fret the pattern just repeats an octave higher. To hear an octave practise playing any of the strings open, and then playing the same string at the 12 fret. The note is the same, but the pitch is higher.

So you will see that every fret represents an increase in pitch. This increase is called an interval. The interval or increase between two notes say C to C# is called a semitone, the interval between 3 notes, say C to D is called a whole tone—which you can think of as two semitones put together. So the fretboard of the guitar is divided at intervals of a semitone. If you play every fret on the E string moving up, you are moving up in semitones, if you just play the open string followed by the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th frets you are moving up in whole tones (or just tones for short).

All of the 12 notes laid out as I have written them above represent what is known as the chromatic scale. If you play every fret moving up the string, you are playing the chromatic scale. However, if we were to take this series of notes and remove the sharps (or flats), what we are left with is the C major scale.

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

You’ll notice the 8th note is another C, which is the octave that I mentioned earlier. When we look at these notes in relation to each other, we will notice that they are at specific intervals. For instance the distance between C and D is a whole tone, as is the distance between D and E, the distance between E and F, however is only a semitone, F to G is a tone, G to A is a tone, A to B is a tone, and B to C is a semitone. With that in mind we can actually map the major scale in terms of the intervals, which will allow us to find the major scale from any starting point. So, if we represent a whole tone with the letter T, and a semitone with the letter S, the major scale can be mapped in terms of intervals as:

T  T  S  T  T  T  S

This might become clearer if I show you how to use this map to find a different major scale. Lets say we want to find the D major scale. We look at the order of notes as listed above, and find where D is. To find the next note we know that we have to move up a whole tone, which takes us to E, then again we need to move up a tone from E, which gets us to F#, after that we are moving up a semitone,which gives us G, then a tone which gives us A, another tone which gives us B, and another tone which gives us C#, and finally a semitone which gets us back to D. So we can work out the D major scale by looking at the intervals of the C major scale:

D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  D

Notice that D major has some sharps two in fact. C major is the only major scale to not have any. Now lets look at why sometimes sharps are called flats. Lets use the same pattern of intervals to find the D# scale…

D#  F  G  G#  A#  C  D  D#

If you look, this scale has 2 G’s and 2 D’s! This is considered bad form! So we have to remember if we start our scale on a sharp, we want to be writing it as flats rather than sharps. Why? Because if we write the notes as their flat counterparts we get a nice neat scale with no duplicate letters:

Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C  D  Eb

So essentially there is no D sharp scale, its called E flat. The same applies for any scale, if you’re starting on a sharp, you need to translate it into flats! If you are starting on any of the notes from the C major scale, you use sharps.

Hopefully this hasn’t boggled your mind too much. The easiest way to get what this lesson has been all about would be to find all 12 major scales using the pattern of intervals that I have showed you. Go through the notes and write down all twelve major scales. I shall see you in the next lesson.

Things to remember:

  • There are 12 notes, once you get to the 12th note the pattern repeats an octave higher in pitch.
  • The distance between each note is an interval of a semitone, a whole tone represents an increase in two notes.
  • The pattern of intervals in a major scale is: T, T, S, T, T, T, S —you can use this to find any major scale
  • If you looking for a scale starting with a note that is not in the C major scale you need to use flats instead of sharps.

 

New Guitar

You can never have too many guitars right? I had been thinking about getting a Stratocaster for a while. I’ve already got an awesome Gretsch Electromatic, but I thought I’d get some single coil goodness to contrast it’s beefy humbuckers (we at least need some excuse to justify our gear addictions right?). Where else but the classic Fender Strat could I possibly go?

I started saving a while back, and this weekend I noticed that my local guitar shop were doing a 10% off deal on all American made guitars. Well I couldn’t really say no to that.

20160527_184059

There it is; an Olympic White American Standard Strat with a maple neck. I decided to go with a maple neck for 2 reasons, firstly because I think it looks cooler than a rosewood neck on a strat, and secondly because I have an ebony neck on my other guitar, and I fancied something that felt a little different. As for colour, the choice seems a bit limited compared to the Mexican made ones, for me it came down to Black, or Olympic White. I went with white. Because Hendrix, that’s why.

The guitar comes with a pretty sturdy hard case, a strap, and a cable, along with all the documentation etc. The set-up out of the box was okay, however I think it could have done with 10 gauge strings rather than 9’s. The set it came with were buzzing like anything, particularly on the 6th string. Thankfully I bought a set of 10’s and changed them almost straight away which got rid of most of the buzz. With the new strings there is a bit of buzz on the G string, but I’m hoping to take it for a set up soon to sort that out.

20160528_084612It feels absolutely awesome to play. The neck and fingerboard took some getting used to after playing a much chunkier, flatter neck on my Gretsch. After I got settled though, I found it extremely comfortable to play, the more rounded fingerboard radius is really nice.

I absolutely love the range of tones that you can get with the 3 single coil pickups. From the Little Wing-esque neck pick up, to the Dick Dale biting treble of the bridge. My favourite has to be the bridge and middle position though, it has a really honky, quacking blues sound which sounds absolutely amazing.

The tone knobs give a massive usable range. The tone knobs on some guitars I’ve played have basically only really provided good sounds on a small part of their overall range, but these are great. With a clean tone you might not want to turn the tone knob to zero, but even that is usable with some distortion if you want a grungy, stoner rock sound.

I was slightly worried about the single coil hum that often gets mentioned. I haven’t totally cranked it yet, but so far it has only made a very minor appearance, and isn’t loud enough to be heard when playing.20160528_084545

For me the tremolo bridge is a bit of a mixed bag, I am a fan of droning open strings and playing fiddly bits up the neck. If I do that with this though the open string goes out of tune if I bend a different string because the tension from bending a string pulls on the floating bridge. That can be annoying. It was also a bit awkward that I had to adjust the trem spring tension after changing the string gauge to stop the bridge from floating at a ludicrous angle. However the tremolo arm does it’s job and doesn’t seem to put the strings massively out of tune. It is fairly simple and reversable to block the trem system if I want to, so if it does bother me too much I’ll just do that.

All in all this a really, really awesome guitar. It sounds amazing through my Marshall DSL-15C with a bit of overdrive from my Fulltone Plimsoul. It’s just a beautiful thing all round and a pleasure to play.

 

 

Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier As A Self Taught Guitarist

Teaching yourself guitar is an awesome experience that can give you enormous amounts of freedom and pride. It is not without it’s pitfalls. In teaching yourself you can ingrain mistakes and bad habits as well as missing out on important stuff that you skipped over. You probably will end up catching up with it all at a later date, however in the interests of helping out people who might just be starting out teaching themselves. I thought I would describe a few things that I wish I had learned earlier when teaching myself. Please note that this post is describing mistakes that I picked up with the intention of helping people who might not be aware of potential mistakes, though I will briefly describe solutions to correct these mistakes these are probably better learned through searching for specific lessons elsewhere.

Music theory

This is the main thing that I am still working on. It’s something that I completely skipped in favour of the more immediate goals of being able to play riffs that I liked or learning some out of context scales. I have an intuitive grasp of certain aspects of theory, however I do not have the knowledge to put it all together. I am still a long way off with this one, but with over 10 years since I started playing it is something I really wished I had learned earlier.

Why should you learn theory? Because it allows you to understand what you are doing and therefore improve it. Knowing the positions of the blues scale for example is one thing, understanding the chords and intervals etc will allow you to go beyond the memorized positions so that you can know which notes to add when, and which non-scale notes will work to add flavour etc. My advice to people teaching themselves guitar would be to find a resource that suits your learning style and dedicate some of your time to learning music theory. You don’t have to become a super jazz nerd or anything (unless you want to of course), but a competent level of theory knowledge will help a great deal.

I’m not even close to a competent level of understanding and I really regret it! Hopefully I will be rectifying this soon.

Bending strings properly

One of the major things that I recently had to work on with my playing was bending notes. The way I initially learned to bend strings was to just bend upwards by pushing the string using mostly a single finger for strength. This resulted in weak, out of tune bends. Once I realised this mistake and corrected it, my playing improved drastically. I made this error because I essentially learned from tabs, which would instruct me to bend strings, but I had no teacher to tell me how to do it properly, thus I simply intuited it wrongly.

First off, lets start with technique. The strength for a bend comes from the wrist. You use your finger to hook the string and hold it during the bend, but most of the strength used comes from the wrist. That is not to say that the fingers do not move, however their movement is not the main force of the bend, this comes from the wrist and hand. Try bending a string using only the strength of your finger, then compare this to engaging your wrist. Engaging your wrist allows for stronger, bigger bends with more control.

Another thing to do is to use more than one finger to support the bend. Essentially this just means avoiding using your index finger to do bends. They are much easier to do if you have one or two fingers behind the fretting finger to support it. There is of course no rule saying you can’t bend with one finger, however you will find that it is much easier and puts less strain on your hand if you support your bend with multiple fingers.

The most important thing aside from proper technique is to learn how to bend to the right tone. More often than not you will bend a note to the next available scale note. For example if you are playing in A minor pentatonic in the 1st position and you wanted to bend the G string at fret 7 you would most likely bend it to sound like fret 9 played on the same string. To practise this all you need to do is find the target note of where you want to bend (in this example 9th fret on the G string), hit that note, then bend on the actual note (7th fret on the G string) until it sounds the same as the target note. You can then reverse this (doing the bend, and then checking if it hit the target note) to make sure you’ve got it down. After a while you will be able to do bends to the proper note without effort.

Correcting sloppy technique

Another thing that can occur if you learn a lot from tabs is that you neglect to learn proper technique when it comes to picking, muting strings, and so forth. I actually became quite advanced (in some respects) with my guitar playing before I thought about correcting sloppy aspects of my technique. Aside from the aforementioned string bends, I was terrible for sounding unwanted strings because I never learned proper muting techniques. Essentially the idea is that the strings above the one you are picking can be muted with your palm, and the strings below can be muted with fingers from your fretting hand. Your solos will greatly benefit from not having unwanted notes ringing out from time to time.

One thing that I still struggle with is using my pinky to fret notes. Whilst it is not essential in that it won’t prevent you from playing well, it does give you more options if you use all 4 fingers. Making a conscious effort to employ your pinky will develop it’s strength and help your technique. I believe that if I had employed my pinky from the start it would be enormously strong by now. Alas it is still a long way off.

That’s about all I can think of for now. Hopefully any guitarists reading this who maybe learned a lot from tabs, written lessons, etc. without any consistent one to one instruction from a teacher will know some potential pitfalls to avoid, or recognise some possible areas to work on in their playing. I wrote this post purely because with each on of the things mentioned I really wished I had picked up on it earlier and corrected it, so hopefully this will help others in a similar position.