Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blues Power

Q: I was reading your blues lesson on your site and am wondering: what do you think makes the Blues greats, great? I mean, what do they have that all the others don't?

A: Man, what a question! It is really hard to talk about Blues from a theoretic point of view but I'll give it a shot. First let's just talk about the few things you have to have:

1. A complete understanding of the chord changes when you solo - This means you really have to be able to hit the right chord tones as the chords come by, to the level that you can stop thinking about it and your fingers know the way. That is why simply playing the minor and/or major pentatonic scale over the progression doesn't guarantee you anything but a very mediocre solo although it is a start.

2. Knowledge of at least some of the traditional licks - You see, even playing the right scales and chord tones doesn't guarantee you a great solo either. There is a definite vocabulary and the only real way to be able play an effective solo is to learn the vocabulary from the best. You have to know where the licks work too: the I, IV, V and turnaround licks for example. If you copy from a wide variety of players, you'll be sure to not sound like any one player and eventually a little time with them under your fingers will lead to a natural evolution of the phrases and your own personality will start to emerge.

3. Good Blues Tone - I'm not saying your tone has to be just like everyone else's but there is a generally excepted tone that involves a certain amount of warmth and/or twang. Of course there is a wide variety of this tone, from Strats and Teles to Les Pauls, but you know it when you hear that Blues tone. You certainly are going to have a rough time milking it from a Roland Jazz Chorus amp.

4. Power - I'm not sure how to describe this, but let's just say the greats all have this power that just knocks you out. It isn't really a technical thing but just this overwhelming sense of strength. Take a look at the great Freddie King and see if you don't feel it:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Guitar Tools pt.2

My second installment of the column I write for This one is dedicated to treble boosters and especially the most famous one, the Rangemaster.

Treble Boosters
– As we learned in part 1 of this column, guitarists in their quest for rock and roll tone often turned to fuzzes to push their amps to the breaking point, but another group of guitarists used a different device. To add some sparkle to the dark British amps in the sixties, many guitar players turned to treble boosters. In addition to adding more high frequencies, they also helped drive their amps with a dbl boost and some added distortion. Although a very 60s sound, the treble booster sounds completely different than the fuzz but if you want and need a varied classic type sound, having one of these in your bag is a must. More >>>

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Recording Advice

Q: My band is recording our first EP in a couple of weeks. Could you please share any insight on how you prepare to perform your guitar parts in the high pressure, clock ticking environment of the recording studio? I don't mean engineering advice, but performance/guitarist tips or even mentality. So far I've been woodshedding the most difficult guitar parts I have to pull off (two shred solos) at home. I record myself, listen back and work specifically on the parts that get sloppy. I play them out of time, then with a slow metronome speed, and then finally up to speed with my goal being to eliminate unwanted noises and to play each note clearly in tune and in time.

A: If this is your first time in the studio, it will be an eye opener. Since the session is your own, there are different thing to consider as opposed to a session for someone else. In some ways it is a lot less pressure, because after all the time is your own and not somebody else’s. Things you might want to think about besides your guitar parts:
1. Get the endings and intros straight before hand. Rehearse your band and figure out how you want to end the songs. Live endings and recorded endings are usually different. Live endings, you bash out a chord and your drummer does a fill and you end it and he play another drum fill. In the studio, you usually don't do live endings that way. Have a listen to various studio recordings and check out how the bands end the songs. For reference, here is two versions of one of my songs, check out the endings. You’ll have to click on the titles of the songs individually but there are four live version songs of songs that appeared on my second CD, compare them and see.

Have a listen to “House on the Hill,” and “Tell me A Story” here:

and then have a listen to the studio cuts here:

You would be surprised how much time gets sucked in the studio on intros and endings so try to get it straight a head of time or you'll end up rehearsing on studio time.

2. Rehearse your band with a click track. If you guys can't play to a click, you will also suck time trying to get in sync. This goes for your guitar parts as well, practice them to a click or rhythm track, this will help you lock in when the time comes.

3. Figure out how to play without any effects on your guitar. Ambient effects definitely come after you record your part so get used to doing it that way. You can use distortion, just make sure you turn it on at the very last second because it is noisy. As it is your time, the engineer might not say anything about you bringing delay or reverb but it will ruin your sound possibly and maybe even make your part unusable if your delay rhythm is different than the song tempo. It is much better to record dry.

4. Get you headphone mix right before hand. Since you have to play dry, have the engineer send you back your guitar mix wet. I sometimes have him send it back really wet, even wetter than I would have him mix it, but this can make it very easy to record. Don’t forget, what effects he sends back to you in your headphones, doesn’t stay in the mix. If you are not sure how to describe what you want, and you are used to playing with a wet sound, just ask him to send it back with about 700 ms and two or three repeats. Maybe have him give you one channel dry guitar and one channel effects on your little groovy headphone mixer and you can mix it there yourself.

5. Try to record Drums, Bass and guitar together. You can throw away the guitar track later so it doesn’t matter if you screw up or not. Your guitar part is just to help your drummer and bassist keep track of where they are in the tune. If you are using a vocalist, it also helps to have him sing as well just to keep everybody true to the form. As I said you can scratch the tracks later and redo them. If you don’t have any booths, you can record your scratch track direct. You bass player will most likely get recorded direct anyways so you can all be in the room with the drummer this way. You can of course move your amp into a booth if there is one but as you are throwing away the track anyways, it doesn’t make much difference. When you record your guitar part (the one you are going to keep), if you have a big room, you can be in there with your amp. I tend to record this way a lot. It helps if you keep the amp far away from you because the loud amp can overwhelm your headphone mix leading a variety of problems. You should definitely practice through the amp you will be recording with because if you practice through something else, the difference in tone might be enough to throw you off.

6. As far as getting nervous, there is no real reason to. As I said, it is your project and your studio time so you shouldn’t feel pressured. The time you should feel pressured is when you are recording for a pain in the ass producer who wants the perfect guitar part done in ten minutes. But if you are having a real hard time getting it together, just simplify. It might help to prepare a simpler part ahead of time if you really need to be out quickly. If worst comes to worst, record the other parts for all the songs minus the guitar solos first, because you can always do your guitar parts after the fact without your band there to bug you. So even if you need an extra day, you can knock out your tracks in one day.

7. If it is a pre-written part, make sure you have it 120 percent down because you lose about 20 percent because of nerves.

Hope this helps,