Tag Archives: acoustic

R.I.P. Chris Cornell (1964-2017)

The music world faced another sad loss with today’s news. Chris Cornell, lead singer and songwriter with three great rock bands, namely Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog & Audioslave, passed away on Wednesday.

In all of these groups his voice rings out & grabs your attention. The video in this post is one of Audioslave’s best songs, performed live.

Back in 2005, Audioslave were playing in Stockholm while I was visiting a friend there, and by chance I ended up catching their show. Cornell played Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ as a solo acoustic number, then followed on with ‘I Am The Highway’ in the same style as this video. It was a brilliant performance which I don’t expect to forget anytime soon.
Rest in peace, Chris Cornell (1964-2017).

Advertisements

New Year’s resolutions for guitar players

As a general rule, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. My philosophy is that changes can be made at any time, so why wait until January?

However, there is something about the end of a year which causes us all to reflect on the previous twelve months and start focusing on our plans for the next twelve. For us working musicians, many of us have recently reached the end of one of our peak times, the ‘Christmas Party Season’.

Like many bands who find most of their work comes from weddings & function work, 2016 ended for me with a NYE gig. In January, things start to feel a little quieter by comparison, which gives us time to ponder on the gigs we’ve enjoyed, what we didn’t enjoy, and what we hope to change for the new year.

So, with that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for guitar-related resolutions for musicians looking to grow as better musicians in 2017:

  • Learn a new style.

Always wanted to start learning those jazz chord voicings? Perhaps you keep meaning to work on your reggae & ska rhythm playing? Or your country picking? Blues slide? The list goes on…

Take the time to work on these new genres & styles of playing. We are very fortunate to live in a time where we can access a world of free tutorials on the Internet, or videos in YouTube. However, don’t rule out the possibility of taking lessons to focus on specific areas – working one to one with an experienced guitar tutor does wonders for improving your playing! 

  • Mix things up.

Learning a style doesn’t mean you have to abandon all you know & travel the world playing strictly Django/gypsy jazz for the rest of your life (though I imagine there are plenty of worse ways to live)!

Have you found that the majority if your playing has been on acoustic guitar? Trying swapping to electric more often (or vice versa). Do you always practise at the same time of day? If possible, can you change to a different time? Your brain operates differently throughout the day – you may well find yourself going down very different musical avenues simply by switching from a morning to an afternoon practice session.

Sometimes learning to play a song you are very familiar with in a new style works brilliantly in helping your playing. Not only do you freshen up material which might be getting a bit stale, but you’ll have a safer means of exploring new options in your guitar playing.

One area of guitar playing I can’t recommend highly enough is solo performance. By this, I don’t mean the lead guitar solo in a song, but playing the melody, harmony, rhythms, etc on one unaccompanied guitar. It’s something a piano player wouldn’t think twice about, but I’m frequently amazed at how many guitarists simply haven’t tried it properly! If you’re unsure about how to start doing this, there are several books, online tutorials (like this blog!), and of course YouTube videos to help inspire you. Which brings us nicely in to…

  • Widen your horizons.

Music is a language. Even when playing on your own, you are creating sounds for yourself to hear, effectively taking to yourself. But there’s only so long you can do that before you end up going round in circles, or going crazy!

Set yourself the following challenge for the year: discover a new artist each month of 2017. Learn from what you hear. Take examples of their playing & try to incorporate it into your own. It can only make you a better guitarist! The beauty of this is that you don’t have to focus on other guitar players. In fact, it might be better not to! Many of the jazz & Blues guitarists I admire take inspiration for their improvisational playing from horn players, translating their melodies & ideas into their own instrument. Try it!

It also helps to get out amongst other musicians, jam, join or start a new band, particularly in a new style. It also goes further than this – always wanted to sing while playing? Start! Learning a new instrument? Do it! The best way out of a rut is to climb upwards!

  • Get your music ‘out there’.

…And if you’re meeting new musicians & launching new projects, you’re already doing this. Go to more live gigs, gig more yourself, especially new and original music. I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in one ‘world’ (in my case playing in a covers band), and finding it hard to do other things, but I promise it’s worth the effort.

Remember to have fun while you’re out there expanding your guitar playing horizons!

Best of luck and wishing you all a very happy new year! Let’s make 2017 – like every year – a great year for music, for the guitar, and for you!

Tim xx

Please do get in touch to tell me what your own guitar/music new year resolutions are, and stay in touch to let me know how you’re getting on with them! Don’t forget I’m here to help if you need it! xx

Gear Talk (2)

It’s been almost two years since the last post running through all of my gear (which you can read here), and a lot has changed since then! Time for an update…

What’s the same?

First off, my blue/purple Strat is still my main weapon of choice (pictured, below).

My main Strat, with modded pickups. Seen here with my fave stomp boxes.

Known as the Standard Stratocaster HSS, this Mexican made beauty has been with me for sixteen years now. A few years ago, I upgraded the pickups to:

  • Fender Vintage Noiseless (neck)
  • Seymour Duncan Cool Rails (middle)
  • Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker (bridge)

I love the combination of these pickups, not to mention their individual tones. I’m buying a new ‘fat Strat’ soon (expect a review to follow) and should I find the standard pickups somewhat lacking in quality, I’ll be replacing them with the same choices mentioned above.

What else has remained the same?

My acoustics – the Taylor 314ce, Admira classical and Tanglewood electro acoustic – are the same as before. My ukulele is a standard concert model by Kauai.

Most of my pedals have remained the same but here’s a quick rundown of my main stompboxes:

  • Joyo Vintage Overdrive (highly recommended!)
  • HotOne Boost
  • Boss OD3 (overdrive) & DS1 (distortion)
  • Marshall Bluesbreaker overdrive
  • Snarling Dogs Wah
  • Joyo Digital Delay

I have a pedal board to house all of these. However, I often simply take two or three pedals out to a gig without the board. This changes from gig to gig, but looking back through the pics on my Twitter account, I find the Joyo Vintage OD (a top quality tubescreamer clone for a fraction of the price) usually makes an appearance.

So what’s new?

ELECTRICS

My current second Strat is a Chinese made Modern Player Stratocaster. Interestingly, it is short scale (24 inches instead of the usual 25.5). Apart from being a feet shorter on the neck (only twenty) you barely notice when playing, though the body is a little smaller. In terms of sound, the pickups on this are classic Strat and I love the Guild humbucker in the bridge – the chrome looks really cool against the scratch plate (see pic below, sun best guitar on the left)!

Modern Player short scale Strat, sunburst (left); Mexican HSS Strat, midnight blue (right); Fender Stage 100 solid state amp (rear).

Finally, I also own an Epiphone Les Paul plus top PRO. The main difference between this and the standard Epi LP is that both the top quality pickups are coil-tapped. They’re also uncovered, which looks very funky against the gold finish (see pic, below).

Epiphone Les Paul plus top PRO, gold with those beautiful uncovered ‘zebra’ humbuckers.

When I bought this guitar, I thought I’d be using it with bands in the heavier end of the rock spectrum. However, I’ve found myself using it more & more for blues & jazz gigs. It was my main guitar for my blues workshops at the Sage Gateshead this summer, and provided those early blues times perfectly.

AMPS

I’ve finally bowed to the inevitable and invested in a digital amp. I’m glad I waited, because evidently Fender did too. The first wave of modelling amps were full of lags & bugs. By waiting, Fender’s first foray into the genre ensured they got it right first time. Even then, they were minor bugs, quickly improved in the line of amps released when I started looking – and now I’m a very happy owner of a Mustang III version 2 (pictured below).

Fender Mustang III v.2 digital amp, pictured here with my gold Epi LP.

This has every amp option you can think of, as well as every effect you’ll ever need. I prefer to keep my overdrive stompboxes, which frees up the amp to add modulation effects (such as phaser or their wonderful chorus choices). There’s room for a hundred saved channels, which is more than I need but useful to have. Also, their pitch-shift effect allows me to down tune the entire guitar without the need to, well, actually down tune the guitar! Very cool!

What else?

Well… I’ve just today ordered a Fender HSH Strat, so expect a review when that arrives. I’m also quite keen to look at a few more pedals from Joyo. Watch this space.

Until next time… 

New video: ‘Waters of Tyne’ (demo)

I haven’t posted a video in a while, so I thought I’d share a quick demo video to show you one if the projects I’m currently working on. 

Having been booked to play an entire set of purely Northumbrian folk music, I have been digging out some if the region’s great melodies & adapting them for solo guitar. I’ve had so much fun doing so that I hope to record some if my favourites later on this year.

For now, here’s a rough demo of one tune I particularly enjoy. Please excuse a) the less-than-perfect quality of sound & b) my guitar-playing facial expressions!

Watch the video here

This piece in this video is a solo acoustic guitar arrangement of the traditional Northumbrian tune ‘Waters of Tyne’. There are already a couple of great arrangements out there, and my version is a mix of some of the better examples available. Like many of those I found, this arrangement uses DADGAD tuning. 

The guitar is my Taylor 314CE (recently cleaned up, re-strung & set up to be my permanent DADGAD guitar). The video was shot & edited using the iMovieMaker app on my iPhone 5s, so apologies for the rather thin sound – a recording on a mobile phone simply doesn’t do full justice to the sound of this wonderful instrument. 

I hope you enjoy this demo. Comments & messages are always welcome. I hope to be sharing more very soon! 

Tim x

Pitching the argument: The reality of 432 Hz vs. 440 Hz tuning

I recently noticed a post on my Facebook page arguing in favour of what is called Scientific Tuning. This is where A4 (just below ‘middle C’) =432 Hz. as opposed to 440 Hz, the modern standard to which all tuners automatically calibrate, and most of the music you hear is tuned to.

The post itself was of a kind I had seen before, and it featured the popular tuning of the universe argument. The idea that as our brains vibrate at 8 Hz, and the solar system vibrates at a perfect multiple of this, music pitch based around a=432 Hz has ‘greater resonance’ with the spheres and our own physiology. Some even use ‘representations’ of how water molecules and snowflakes look based on varying frequencies. What is especially interesting about some of these sites, other than some highly dubious arguments which often have little scientific backup, is their connection to a product – the invariably wish for you to ‘see the light’ about the ‘truth’ of 432 pitch, then buy their music recorded at this frequency! (Quick – it’s for the good of your wellbeing!)

I agree that we are tuned into the universe’s vibrations. As creatures which have evolved on this planet, based on matter being constantly recycled for thousands of millennia before humans appeared, it could only ever be so. But our ears are incredibly complex and amazing instruments, capable of discerning minute pitch differences. We also have an in-built system for relative pitch (the sequencing of one sound connected to the preceding and following sound).

This is not only how we appreciate and enjoy music, but how we developed speech patterns as a species across the globe. It stands to reason, therefore, that the pitching of music is entirely relative. An out-of-tune guitar (with itself as opposed to any other sounds) would sound unpleasant. This is because while one note in isolation is always on set pitch, a chord will include several pitches which are not quite correctly aligned, and therefore out-of-tune. The overall tuning of the instrument only matters when performing with another, and even then they only have to be in tune with each other to produce pleasing-sounding harmonies.

Another classic argument propagated by those opposed to the A=440 Hz tuning is that is was first proposed by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief. It is true that Goebbels commented on the effects of 440 tuning, but many had done so before. Several orchestras were already tuning closer to 440 than 432. The general tuning of ‘middle C’ seems to have risen slowly since the 18th century, highlighting the benefits of standardisation in pitch across the globe. This had already begun to happen before WWII, and was only officially standardised in the 1950’s, after the war had ended (and Goebbels’ suicide). It was also increasingly commonplace for instrument manufacturers to use 440 tuning by the 1920’s as this blog states.

In terms of inducing ‘mass hysteria’, or even attempting to illicit a greater emotional response from a populace through music, 440 tuning would only work at large-scale events, with hundreds of people present, if not more. It could then be argued that the hysteria comes from the crowd (consider the almost war-like ‘crowd mentality’ witnessed and experienced at sporting events) rather than the music’s pitch itself. As social animals, we are designed to be ‘swept along’ by crowds and emotions. It is how we connect. Once again, everything is relative, and I can’t see any proof that the tuning of the music to a specific pitch is the cause of social control, unrest of poor human wellbeing.

Finally, there comes the acid test: Use a controlled experiment, playing listeners the same clip of music but tuned to different pitches. Professor in sound and acoustic research Terry Cox did this very experiment. His results found no preference whatsoever in listeners hearing music played at 432 Hz, compared to 440 Hz. You can hear the clips he used and read his full explanation and results here.

In conclusion, I agree there are good physic-based reasons that music pitched at A=432 Hz. should sound better. However, I strongly encourage you to worry about the bigger problems in life and enjoy music for what it is: the organisation of pitch and rhythm. These pitches, like physics, and indeed like the human condition, are all relative: They are not only what you make them, but what you interpret them to be.

“Seeing Without Knowing” (1)

There are many downsides to being unwell, as well as all the usual symptoms – missing uni, calling in sick for work, snot getting out on my first Friday night not gigging in ages (grr) – but there is the upside that you get more time in the house. This means all of those small, niggling tasks I’ve been putting off since moving house a few months ago are now sorted. I’m also more or less up to date with uni assignments but best of all, I’ve had time to devote to research and groundwork for my new sonic project, provisionally titled “Seeing Without Knowing”.

The premise behind the idea is simple enough: The accessibility of art to everyone

How many times have you heard people discuss ‘high art’ without any practical experience of it themselves?
In other words, think of a famous poet/playwright/composer/painter, etc – how well do you know their work? You know you SHOULD (and many cultural snobs will tell you, with great enthusiasm, what to like) but when was the last time you read poetry? Or went to an art gallery? Which brings me to my next point…

Apart from a small handful of amazing venues (The Sage Gateshead, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle’s Lit. & Phil. Society Library and The Hatton Gallery amongst them) there are few opportunities to experience famous Art exhibits in the North East of England. Is this because the powers that be in at the Arts Council/Lottery Fund, etc agree with the notorious critic Brian Sewell when he said art and culture would be ‘wasted on northern monkeys)? Even the Lindisfarne Gospels were only loaned to the City of Durham before being returned to the British Museum, despite winning ‘attraction of the year’ at the North East England Tourism Awards, 2013 – perhaps it’s time to highlight this perception, in order to change it.

Similarly, what makes some forms of art ‘high art’? There are people who switch off at the thought of certain genres because of their preconception of those as ‘stuffy’ just as there are those who can critique Pop music with very little listening experience to go off. These preconceptions are echoes of cultural use and prior opinion, which got me thinking – Why not use the echoes of an event as the source of a musical work, with the original performance removed?

I’ve recently appealed via my Twitter account (@tim_guitarist) for suggestions of large, cavernous spaces in which I can record myself playing solo classical guitar. The main criteria I am interested in is a) somewhere with large amounts of natural reverb (as I intend to record the reverb separately to the guitar itself) and b) somewhere away from external noises (so underneath rail bridges or near busy roads are a no-go for sound pollution reasons). I’ve had some interesting suggestions so far, but still looking for additional inspiration – if you have any suggestions, please drop me a line.

All will be made clear, but one stage of the process I have in mind will involve free public performances, so stay tuned for updates regarding dates and locations, etc. I am also interested in particular to hear from any visual artists who may want to add an accompanying visual element to the sonic piece I aim to create. Any who read this (professional or students) who may be interested in a collaboration please drop me a line so I can outline a few more details of my plan to you.

More details to follow, but until next time…

Gear Talk

I’ve been asked about the gear I use a fair few times this year so while I have a little spare time today, I thought I’d share with you details of the regular equipment I use.

ELECTRICS
My main guitars (which go out on every electric guitar gig) are both Mexican ‘Fat Strats’ by Fender. Both are made of Alder and feature Rosewood fingerboards.

The spare (my black one) was bought from the USA already customised, with humbucker in the bridge position and one master tone control. Where the second tome used to be is now a three-way toggle to split the humbucker to either half on their own or fully combined, which works brilliantly for acoustic simulation (and a lot less hassle than lugging an acoustic guitar about for one or two tunes!).

The main (blue one, pictured) is a Mexican ‘fat’ Strat (humbucker in the bridge). A few years back, I upgraded all three of the pickups. The bridge now houses a Seymour Duncan J-45 (usually used in Les Pauls) which gives a delightfully ‘throaty’ but open overdriven sound. The middle pickup is a Seymour Duncan ‘Cool Rails’ – but don’t let the name fool you – this packs a wonderfully modern-sounding punch and effectively gives me a humbucker in the middle position. Plus, switching to the position between bridge and middle gives an amazing ‘quack’ sound that cuts through a full band mix brilliantly when both clean and driven. The neck is a Fender Vintage Noiseless. This is my only single coil on the guitar and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the ‘pout’ you get from the Strat’s neck pickup and would never sacrifice what is my all-time favourite guitar tone for a little extra power.

AMPS AND EFFECTS PEDALS
My electric amp is a ten+ year old Fender Stage 100. They don’t make these any more but are without a shadow of a doubt the best transistor amplifier out there. I gig far too much to deal with the unreliability of valve amps and with one this good (and thanks to the 12″ Celestion ‘Greenback’ speaker, an amp this LOUD) I hopefully never need to. It’s been serviced twice in all of the time I’ve had it (since new) and works a real treat.

Should I ever upgrade, I have heard good things about Fender’s digital range and tried out a Roland 80 Cube last year. While the Cube impressed me a lot, it only had two switchable channels, and I’m rather spoilt by having the option of an additional drive channel with my amp, so looks like I’m sticking with it for now.

I don’t use many effects but rely on a BOSS OD3 as a solo boost (or occasionally as an ‘additional overdrive channel’ when I need a different sound to my amp.
My main solo boost pedal is a rather cheap and relatively unknown make, called a ‘Vintage Overdrive’ (JF-01) by Joyo Pedals. Joyo are a Chinese company and this pedal features the same chip inside as the classic TS-808 Tube Screamer. Put simply, it sounds amazing for lead work. I cannot recommend this pedal highly enough (and it costs less than £30 – you may as well buy two so you have a spare handy)!
My other effects are a Digital Delay (another wonderful Joyo creation) and a Cry Baby Wah-Wah.

ACOUSTICS
Classical: Admira Sevilla.
Higher-level ‘student’ model with a solid Cedar top. One of the most beautiful-sounding guitars I have played in this price range, and my nylon-strung axe of choice for solo classical gigs.

Electro-Acoustic: Taylor 314CE.
I first tried out this guitar over ten years ago, then shopped around for SIX MONTHS for another guitar which felt so comfortable and natural under the fingers, not to mention sound anywhere near as good. I failed, and eventually had to stump up the extra cash to buy the Taylor. It was money very well spent. Taylor’s range is extensive and I seriously suggest you try one out – they will have something which suits you, particularly if your style is heavily folk/fingerstyle based.

The gear I use has seen me through countless gigs, concerts and studio sessions with very few problems all in all. That said, if anyone has equipment out there that they feel would suit me (I play a huge range of styles) please do get in touch – I will happily borrow a guitar/amp for a weekend or two and put it through it’s paces at a few gigs, then review for you. My reviews appears on this blog, but will also happily write (or edit the blog to suit) for other gear/guitar review sites, as well as your own media. Get in touch via the blog or find me on Twitter (@tim_guitarist) to discuss!

Happy playing!