I think my first open mike night had to have been around 1993 or 94. I remember it pretty clearly. Being bitten by the blues-pentatonic I-VI-V chord vamp, I was pretty stoked to play with a few guys who were working musicians. Most people will tell you that regardless of the amp or guitar you’re using, the sound comes from you and your hands. I do believe this. However I think you really need to be comfortable with what you’re using. For myself, I really only like playing through my equipment, simply because I know what I’m going to get.
That night there was an old silver face twin. You could crank that thing and it just wouldn’t distort. Someone had a RAT pedal and I just cranked the distortion pretty much all the way. The more the better, it was for me anyway. After the first song, someone asked if I could “clean it up”. Needless to say, what sounded like some cool blues riffs in the bedroom really didn’t fly on stage or in a band atmosphere. Bedroom distortion is totally different from on stage distortion.
It has taken me many years to realize what an important lesson that really was. First of all, I went in there thinking I knew how to play. I CAN PLAY A FIVE-NOTE SCALE! I should be able to play anything, right? Wrong. Secondly, three or four guys who I have just met, playing live in front of an audience, don’t really have a good feel for each other. No real chemistry. And finally, I CAN PLAY A FIVE NOTE SCALE!
Like a lot of guitarist out there, I had visions of rock stardom. The only problem is I didn’t have the discispline to even sit down and learn a song from start to finish. Didn’t even know how to write a tune. Yet, like a contestant just booted off American Idol, I was going to be the biggest thing since Van Halen or whomever. The blinders were definitely on.
So what does all this mean and where am I going with it. If you pick a band off MTV or VH-1, pretty much any band. What you don’t know is the story before they were this Multi-Platinum selling machine. If you ever get a chance to talk to your favorite band, ask them how long it took to get where they are? Ask them how many days did they go hungry or without a shower? Just ask them how hard it was getting to where they are now.
Now was it worth it? I’m sure it is, but how long do you attempt to make it until you realize, “I need a real job”?
Other than wanting to be a “world known guitarist”, I also wanted to play professional baseball. My father and I had a conversation about this. Sparing you all the detail, he asked me “What makes you think you’re going to make it?” At the time I just had a feeling I was going to. More of a vision really. But the truth is, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t make a sacrifice and I let to many things get in the way.
To try to sum this up, try to envision what type of player you want to be. If it’s a blues guitarist, focus on finding your own sound and practice until you can play what’s in your head. While you’re doing this, your ears should get better and you’ll begin “hear” what sounds good or not so good from a tone perspective. And then you should practice some more. Play with as many people as you can. And then you should practice some more. And you should play as often as you can. And then you should practice some more.
I once read an article by Rusty Cooley. Rusty is one of those players that from another world, real scary. Rusty kept a practice regime and set goals for himself. He came across a very determined and disaplined player. Just download any of his videos from his site and I think you’ll agree. I think this is a great way to improve your skills.
Along with keeping a log of your progress, I think it is very important what and how you practice. First and foremost, practice your chords and scales with a clean tone. Distortion will hide your mistakes. Playing clean is also a great ear trainer. Play the notes as clean as possible so you can hear every note without any buzz. Find a place with out distractions. Learn songs from music that are totally opposite of what you normally listen to. For example if you’re into Jazz. Listen to country and see if you can bring a jazz feel to the song. Can really help you branch out.
I recently ask a friend of mine, Josh Smith, what did he do to become a better guitarist. Here’s what he suggested. “Challenge yourself by not only figuring out guitar parts, but learn how to play the horn parts in an arrangement”. This is a great suggested as it call really open up your style. Josh’s website is www.joshsmithandthefrost.com
Lastly, and this may be directed to the younger players, please do yourself a favor and get an education. Use both, playing guitar (or whatever instrument you play) and your degree, to further your knowledge. There’s nothing like having a good job to support your GAS addiction.
In next month’s article, I’ll be highlighting some of the players I met at NAMM. Some of them you may or may not have heard of, but definitely worth checking out.
Until next time….Playloud.
January 11, 2006
Greeting Tone Seekers! It’s a brand new year and I’ll be bringing you a monthly web column dedicated to the pursuit of tone. For most of you, the search of that “sound”, we hear in our heads, is something that can just drive you crazy with GAS and keep you up at night. Is it the thrill of the chase to find that ultimate sound? Or has our childhood new toy obsession just evolved into a different type of toy? Probably for me the latter is my excuse. However, I’m sure we all share that emotional goose bumps on the arm state when we actually find what we’re looking for. Isn’t that what its all about?
So what are we going to talk about? Great question. Sitting down to contemplate what topics I’ll cover is similar to eating at a buffet restaurant. Where in the world do we start? Do I start with the latest, greatest new guitar builder? What about that new pedal you’ve been hearing about that just rocks? Or could it be about a certain technique that one of our favorite player uses? How about practicing? Should we get as detailed as what battery is better for your pedals?
Well several years ago, I was a member of the Toastmasters. For those of you who have not heard of this organization, let me give you a brief explanation. Toastmaster’s is a global organization dedicated to the art of public speaking. Upon joining you are required to give what is know as an “ice-breaker” speech. This helps the group know more about who you are. So that’s what I’ve decided to do for my first column.
At first I began with an interest in drums. My father played in a band and had a good friend who had a set. I remember pretty clearly pounding on those skins. Unfortunately, my parents had divorced and because I didn’t see my father that much he decided not to purchase a set of drums for me. Perhaps that was a good thing or this could have been a column about drumming.
Around the age of 11 is when I first started playing guitar. Typical story really, my best friend learned a song, show it to me and I was hooked. You probably recall clearly what the first song you learned was. Mine was Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark”. What’s funny here is that I was totally into Metal during this time and continued to love it for many years to come and still somewhat do. Because of my mother and stepfather’s taste in music, I grew up loving Disco too! I still have the movie sound track to Saturday Night Fever in original vinyl. How in the world can someone love Metal and Disco at the same time? Well I just did, because it just sounded good.
Even getting more extreme, my stepfather and myself would travel to the little town of Sparta, NC (Near the upper western part of North Carolina). His best friend’s father, a fantastic flatpicker and elderly man with very weathered skin on his face and hands. I think his guitar was as beat up as he was. They both had a lot of miles. We called him Lighting. He moved around slow and steady, but could flatpick old mountain tunes with great fluidity. He was impressive to watch and helped me greatly because I learned how to change chords quickly by following him. Years later I finally learned to appreciate this type of music. I’ll explain later.
Up to this point, there’s really nothing special to tell. I’m sure its somewhat of a familiar and typical story. I think it was around 92’, that a guitarist whose name I forget, introduced me to the blues scales and how they work. The light went off in my head and something magical happened. I began to “hear” for the first time. Notes had meaning. Song and solo structures became easier to manage and figure out. I stopped reading tab and began using my ears to hear what was happening. Now this started a chain reaction. It’s amazing what happens when you start to “hear” what’s going on rather than just listening.
Because of the musical influences I had and the fact that my mother and father had careers in sales, I wanted to be that person a manufacture uses to demonstrate and promote their products. I guess you’d call this position a clinician. I came up with the idea of being an independent rep. My first call for employment was to Steve Blutcher at Dimarzio. A resume was sent and Steve actually took the time to speak with Larry Dimarzio about it. But they were already an established company and I really couldn’t bring any value to their company. However a few years later, Steve and I would become friends or at least good acquiesces.
My second call was to Terry McInturff. He was just starting to break out and pick up steam. Furthermore, he was just an hour away from where I lived. Seemed like a good opportunity, but Terry handled all his dealers by himself. Strike two, but I was motivated and pushed on. The next couple of calls where to Fulltone, Jaros Guitars and a few others. I wasn’t getting anywhere. However in 2000 things changed and I really stepped in it.
As I get older, I am continuously blessed by the people I meet and get to know. I’m extremely grateful for the position I’m in today. It’s taken a tremendous amount of work. Even with all the work I’ve put into my career, it wouldn’t have been possible with out the chance Gene Baker gave me.
Searching in Google, I typed in Custom Guitars. A small company called Baker Guitars came up. Someone named Gene Baker was the owner. His bio looked pretty good, but what really attracted me was the guitar. Now don’t let me confuse you, I didn’t contact him because I thought he had a cool guitar design. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I have this uncanny ability to just look at a product and know, “this is going to be good”. So I emailed Gene and told him who I was and wanted to do. He agreed it was a good idea. It fit his future plans and he offered to bring me to my first NAMM show in January of 2000.
At NAMM, to be honest I had no idea what to expect. Not a clue. Not to mention, I really had no idea who Gene really was. Gene’s artist relation’s person at the time was Jeff Rivera. Jeff was Robben Ford’s long time tech. Jeff brings Robben down to the booth. Robben was a huge influence on me and he was standing right there! I listened in to Robben and Gene’s conversation. Come to find out Gene headed up the production and building process of the Robben Ford model while at Fender. Gene and Robben had begun talking about a Baker “RF” model guitar. Two years later it would be a reality.
Some of you may know the story of why Baker Guitars went out of business. I’m not going to rehash it. But I will say it broke my heart.
Because of the opportunity at Baker, doors opened up. Right before Baker closed its doors, I was introduced to Andy Fuchs. Now funny thing is I can’t recall exactly how I contacted him. But it began pretty much the same as with Gene. Andy wanted to branch out. I had a small dealer base. It was a win-win. Since 2003, I’ve been working with Andy. Also in 2003, I was introduced to Xotic effect pedals. I’ve worked with them about as long as I’ve been with Andy.
The accumulation of working with Baker, Fuchs and Xotic really made an impression on me concerning Tone. Baker Guitars incorporated the Buzz Fieten Tuning System, which by the way has spoiled me to the point I can’t really play a guitar without it, and with my ears being a little more sensitive I could really hear the difference. Andy was making a Dumble type amp. Being a touch sensitive amp and playing a Baker, I was forced to make some adjustments in my playing. Again, I continued, “hear” what was happening. How the amp reacted to how I played, mistakes stood out. With the Buzz Fieten System, when the guitar got a little out of tune, I could “hear” it and it sometimes drove me nuts. No matter how slightly the guitar was out of tune.
I’ve been a member of The Gear Page for a little over a year. What an awesome resource! I recommend it to anyone. I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Those members have given me honest feedback on several topics. I hope to meet some of you in the future. If any of you run across “Ole’ Dog Ears”, this guy really knows his stuff. Just be careful that he doesn’t get your booth turned off at NAMM. That’s a little inside joke.
Over the past 6 years, it’s been an awesome experience. I’ve been able to meet all of my favorite artists and learn about some great gear. I have plans of reviewing some of this obscure gear that you’ve only heard about. I hope it will also help these manufactures sell some additional product. There are so many fantastic builders, any support we can provide for them I hope is appreciated. After all they’re helping fulfill our GAS.
I hope you found this first column somewhat interesting. I want to make sure everyone understands that I am by no means the king of tonal knowledge. But like many of us, just continuing to search for that sound in my head.
In closing, let me leave you with some personal information and current gear set up.
My family consists of my wife and I and our three kids, Charleigh (8), Jackson (6) and Zoey (4). I’ve been promising Charleigh a purple guitar for her to learn on. One of these days I’ll get around to getting her one. Jackson, I’d like for him to learn the drums. With Drummers being hard to come by, I figure why not let him learn so we can jam. Zoey….we’ll its too early to tell but for now I see a bright future for her in the mosh pit. She’s the wild one. Having such an amazing family that supports what I do is more than I could ever ask for.
As for gear, my absolute favorite guitar is my Baker B-1. I can’t recall how or why I actually got this guitar, but it was sent to me prior to being sold to an upstate dealer. When I forwarded it on, the dealer called and said we’ve got a problem. A particular shipping company had broken the neck right out of the pocket. The case was unharmed. We’re all still scratching our heads on how this could have happened.
Phil Pitello fixed it for me. It plays as good as it did before the accident. Is that a testament to Gene’s luthier ability or Phil’s skills with repair? I’d like to think a little of both.
For amps and effects, I currently use a Fuchs TDS-50 4×10 combo. This amp is a monster in size and volume. The cabinet’s dimensions are 27” (W) x 30” (H), somewhat of a back breaker. The only effect I’m currently using is a Xotic BB pedal. Never really cared for a lot of effects between the amp and guitar. The signal is routed via Lava Cables. And that’s really it.
Until next month…Playloud.