Apr 6 2011

Understanding acoustic wood, visualized…

by Josh

Thanks to Flipboard, I found this great visualization of the tonal characteristics of back and side wood found in acoustic guitars over at Breedlove Guitars.  They also do a great job of talking about how each different type of wood contributes to the tone of an acoustic guitar.  I have heard this information in many different forums as I am learning more about instrument building, but the way they graphed this data on a chart really helped me to understand better.  Also, I was not aware of the similarities between some of these woods, so I found it a very interesting read.

Nov 30 2010

Gibson: User’s Guide To Distortion

by Josh

Just a quick one: Gibson has released a User’s Guide To Distortion and it does a great job of explaining the different types of distortion and what it means to your playing.  Very enlightening!

Sep 21 2010

Chromatic Scale Drills

by Josh

My friend Paul turned me on to an easy drill to do in order to get yourself accustomed to proper picking technique and movement around the guitar neck.  Paul discovered this drill from another coworker of ours who is quite accomplished on the guitar and used to do this drill “every time he picked up a guitar”.  He also runs SongInspire, where you can purchase backing tracks to help your playing.

The drill is fairly simple and based on the chromatic scale.  You start at the first fret on the E string and play each of the first four frets, one at a time taking special care to use proper picking technique.  Then you move over to the A string and repeat the same process.  You continue in this fashion until you reach the high E string, and then do the exact same steps backwards.

Once you reach the first fret on the low E string, you move your hand down to the second fret and repeat the process.  You continue on in this way until you reach the 12th fret, and then work your way back up the neck until you end on the first fret.

It doesn’t take that long (I can get through it in about 15 minutes going at a fair pace) and it really helps to get you used to picking without thinking about it and moving comfortably across, up, and down the guitar neck.  Once you get comfortable with the mechanics of the drill and things begin to flow a bit more naturally, you can augment this by tapping your foot to keep time or using a metronome to work on that aspect of your guitar playing as well.

I hope you get some value from this drill, I know I am!  Thanks to Paul for turning me on to this, and Dave for turning him on to it!

Aug 18 2010

What’s been going on lately…

by Josh

Happily, a lot of guitar practice. I’ve been alternating between my Gibson Custom and my Seagull acoustic, mostly practicing songs that I am familiar with. I’ve been continuing on lessons over at Totally Guitars and slowly making progress.

I got the opportunity to travel back to my hometown thanks to my job, so I got to hang out and jam with my two cousins. It’s always cathartic to get to practice with family, and I always find it to be much more relaxing.

In the process of learning more about the guitar, I am also cultivating a strong interest in learning to build guitars myself. It will likely be next year before I execute on this interest, but we might end up with a new section at The Guitar Zero to focus on instrument building for the absolute beginner. I am still in the information-gathering phase, but luckily the Internet is filled with information from both amateur and professional luthiers. As the weeks progress, I will explore some of the more interesting websites that I have discovered lately.

In the meantime, I will get back to posting more about my guitar practice and some recent discoveries that have made playing more easy. More soon!

May 25 2010

My new ’57 VOS Gibson Les Paul Custom Gold Top!

by Josh

I decided earlier this year to buy myself a debt-free celebration present of a really nice guitar to continue my learning process on, so I picked the Les Paul Traditional.  However, those of you that have been following along over at my personal blog are aware of my recent dealings with MusiciansFriend regarding my order for a Les Paul Traditional that my order was delayed.  Shortly after my blog post was up, I was quickly contacted by a gentleman named Justin with MusiciansFriend that wanted desperately to make things right, and I am pleased to report that they have done just that.

They provided me an option to upgrade my order to a used Gibson Les Paul Custom (that they had in stock) and after a fairly long email chain they quickly had it to my door.  I’m happy we were able to work out a compromise that resulted in me ending up with a better guitar, despite the fact it was more expensive.  As anyone that has been near me lately can attest, I am very pleased.

The Guitar

I opted for a more cost-effective used model of the Gibson Les Paul Custom 1957 VOS Gold Top.  MusiciansFriend was advertising this guitar as used, despite the fact that there appears to be very little used about it.  They claim that the VOS finish was polished to a semi-gloss, however there is nothing to indicate that it wasn’t done by the Custom Shop or someone equally skilled.  One of my friends is a former Gibson employee and told me that people pay a lot to have their Gibsons finished in this fashion, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and I’m inclined to agree with him.

The Neck and Back

The neck on this guitar is rounded in the 1950’s style.  It’s the biggest neck I’ve ever held on an electric guitar, far surpassing my acoustic’s neck in fatness.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at the onset, but just a few minutes of playing it extolled the virtues of a large neck.  It fit my hands very well and put my wrist in the proper position very naturally.  Both the neck and the back of the guitar are solid mahogany, which gives this guitar excellent sustain.  It also makes it weigh a metric ton.

The Pickups

I made a concession on the pickups.  I really wanted to get a guitar that had the ’57 Classic pickups, but the more research I did indicated that I was actually trading up here too.  It seems that Gibson pickups are one of those “holy war” topics where it is very difficult to be right, you eventually have to end up going with what you want.  My new guitar has Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups, which are considered “precise replicas” of the original Patent Applied For pickups (if you believe the marketing materials).

Not being extremely well versed in Gibson lore, I had only a few reference points.  One of them is my buddy Paul’s Gibson Les Paul Standard, which has Burstbucker Pros.  My pickups sound mellower than his, but they still sound great when they have some gain put on them.  Personally, I prefer the mellower sound so once again I’m happy.


The thing that gets me the most about this guitar is the big leap in playability.  The action on this guitar was very good right out of the box, making it easy to get up and down the neck without a lot of effort.  In addition, the frets are both tall and wide, which cuts down on the amount of pressure needed to make a clean note.  Add these things together with the fat neck, the extra sustain from the solid neck and back, and the vintage-style pickups and it all adds up to one incredible instrument.

Thanks to MusiciansFriend for making this situation right, and thanks to Gibson’s Custom Shop for making a superior instrument.  This sure is one great debt-free present!

Wanna see more pictures?  Get a fairly large zip file here and check ’em out.

Apr 27 2010

Learning by jamming…

by Josh

I have the notable pleasure of working in an office environment with a bunch of other amateur musicians, so once in awhile we get together and have an office jam. The latest of these was last weekend, and we tend to prepare a new song each jam session and then go back to some old favorites.

I ended up arriving to the jam session late (as usual) and joined in with the group on a long rendition of Hey Joe.  After that, we made a few aborted attempts at Layla by Eric Clapton and quickly just fell into a blues session. A coworker of mine is fairly experienced with the guitar, and I picked up a simple little blues shuffle by watching him which ended up being my main contribution to the song.

Just as with anything, it seems to help if you surround yourself with more experienced players and just try to pick up a thing or two each time to work on.  It was fun getting to learn a few new licks, and that led me to seek out  this YouTube tutorial on a simple 12-bar blues that I’ve been working on lately.  I hope you all enjoy it.

Mar 7 2010

Common Chord Progressions and you…

by Josh

Over the last two months, I’ve been working on a lot of song practice.  Most recently, I have discovered the newest offering by one of my favorite bands: Barenaked Ladies.  For some reason, their new song “You Run Away” has burrowed into my brain and I have been listening to the single I purchased from iTunes frequently.

After some discussion with John, he pointed out that the guitar parts of this song are pretty easy.  I was somewhat skeptical, knowing that Ed Robertson’s guitarwork is on average far more advanced than what I would consider pretty easy, but I asked John to get me the chords for it anyway.  He quickly hit me back with details that as far as he could tell, the song used a capo on the 2nd fret and the chords were G, Dsus4/F#, Em7, and Cadd9.

That sounds like a mouthful, I thought… but I tried it out and quickly realized that these were the EXACT same chords that I use to play Eve, The Apple of my Eye.  I was but a few hours of strumming practice away from getting the pattern and with little effort I had another song in my repertoire!  John pointed out that this is one of the more common chord progressions in pop/rock music today and there is probably 100 more songs that follow the same pattern.  We’ve started work on a list that we will post up here, but it’s fun when skills from one song directly transfer to another!

Thanks to John for the chord tab and to Barenaked Ladies for a great song that inspired me to look deeper.  Their new album arrives in Canada on March 23rd and the US on March 30th, so be sure to check it out!

Jan 6 2010

Solid State vs Tube Guitar Amplifiers

by John

John is a new addition to TheGuitarZero team. He has been playing guitar since he was a little kid, and has spent most of his adult life chasing tone and knowing all there is to know about guitar gear.

Ahh, the great battle is upon us!  Solid state versus Tube amps.  Well, like most things I would normally say that its personal opinion.  But not this time…  I will make a bold statement and say that 99 out of 100 tube amps will dominate not only volume, tone, and clarity but will also make the solid state amps crawl into a corner with its tail between its legs.  Oh, did I say great battle?  I meant a slaughter…  Its like comparing an atomic bomb to a set of nun chucks.   Tube amps for the win every time.

There are many reasons why tube amps are used by virtually every performing and nonperforming musician out there.  They just sound better.  They sound warmer, fuller and richer.  Why you ask?  I’ll tell you.  Tube amps use tubes (go figure) to power the amp.  I wont go into any boring details on how it works or what makes the tubes sound the way it does, but Ill put it in layman’s terms.    There are two kinds of tubes in tube amps.  There are big ones and small ones.  The big tubes are called power tubes.  They give the amp its overall volume output and tonal characteristic.  The little tubes are called preamp tubes.  They take the incoming signal and amplify it X number of times.  The most commonly used preamp tubes are called 12ax7’s.  The most commonly used power tubes are either 6L6’s or EL34’s.  The sound varies greatly not only on what tubes you’re using but what company made the tubes.  The most popular tubes on the market today are groove tubes.  They sound great and last a long time.  The best tubes on the market in my opinion are made by Mullard.  They are the best because they use nothing but the highest quality parts and they aren’t afraid to go the extra mile in making the best of the best.  Of course that comes with a bigger price tag too.  There are many different kinds of each tube out there.  When you get to guitar nerd status like me you start ignoring most things you used to find interesting (like cool new amps or some self-tuning guitar or something) and start focusing on the smaller details like what tubes sound like what and how to manipulate the combinations of tubes.

Any popular amp will be tube.  Here are some popular tube amp companies.  Marshall, Fender, Mesa Boogie, Hiwatt,  Bogner, ENGL, Soldano, just to name a few.  Some of these companies make solid state amps but they are few and far between.  Here are some companies that make a lot of solid state amps.  Crate, Peavey, Line 6, Randall, and some of those companies also make tube amps.  Im my experience if someone says to me they got a new crate amp, or line 6 amp, I usually smile and nod because I know there is a huge possibility that its a low end solid state amp.  On the other hand if someone came up to me and said I just got a new Marshall or Bogner amp, I can almost guarantee its not solid state and they instantly become more musically credible.

Now the devil’s advocate… Solid state amps aren’t all bad.  In fact Im sitting four feet from one right now.  Granted its my 50 watt junker from when I was growing up, but it does the trick for late night computer room jams while the Mrs. is asleep in the next room.  Ive been hard on the solid state amps so lets dog the tube amps for a bit.  Tube amps weigh a ton, they are expensive, they are bulky, high maintenance and they are about as energy efficient as an over sized SUV.  They are made with heavy parts and when you’ve been playing on them for a while the tubes get so hot they start glowing.  They turn into tube sized soldering irons.  (But damn they sound good).  The Pros for Solid state amps…  They are much more energy efficient, more reliable, better sounding at lower volumes, lower maintenance, they are much cheaper, and you can get modeling versions that make your amp sound like several different types of amps.  Solid state vs. tube amps….  tube amps win with a knockout 5 seconds into the first round.

Thats about all I got for this week.  I will leave you with a short personal story about this subject.  A few months ago my band was looking for a second guitar player.  So this guy comes to the door and he needs some help bringing his half stack down into the basement.  No problem.  So we are unloading his vehicle and I noticed he had a “famous brand X” 250 watt head with a 4×12 marshall cabinet.  I knew it was a solid state because hardly any tube amps get that high in wattage.  I pleasantly said “Nice head, is that one of those “famous brand X” heads?”  He looked at me really cocky and said “Yeah, I hope I can hear your amp over this thing.  This amp will blow your head off, man.“  I smiled and nodded like the polite man that I am and we proceed to go down, set up and jam.  We did a quick sound check and he (of course) turned his amp way up.  Obviously louder than it needed to be and he looked at my fender combo amp and smirked.  So I turned my Fender tube amp volume up a little over 75% way, (mind you at normal jam volume is around 20%) kicked on my 70’s Big muff distortion/fuzz and my boost pedal and as God as my witness my 60 watts of tube power ate his 250 watts of solid state power for breakfast.  A shocked look came across his face and he later asked me how many watts my amp was.  I  told him 60.  He didn’t believe me.  So after showing him the little 60 watt print on the back of the amp he asked me why mine was so much more overpowering.  I basically told him what Ive told you in this week’s article and he was dumbfounded saying something to the effect of “I guess real tubes do make a difference.”  Then I was the one with the smirk on my face.  The funny thing is both amps cost about the same.  His cost a bit more due to the 4×12 cabinet.  But it goes to show you that tubes are where its at.  I had less than 25% of the watts and half as many speakers and I still drowned him out.

Here is a great video on this week’s topic.

Nov 29 2009


by Josh

Over the long holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to watch Paul McCartney’s concert on TV.  That led me to YouTube, looking up guitar lessons on how to play some Beatles hits and I stumbled upon this video instructing some of the basics about Yesterday along with some history on the variety of ways that the song is played.  I was pretty impressed by this mini-lesson, so I ventured over to TotallyGuitars.com and looked around some more.

After signing up for a free account, I’ve been devouring the lessons taught by Neil Hogan.  He is a very clear instructor, however at times he does excitedly descend into some rather complicated explanations (for my experience level) how different chord or patterns fit together.  So far my favorite lessons have been his “campfire songs” where he takes some popular music and makes them easily strummed, suitable for singing with friends around a campfire.

Neil also goes into some detail with his basic lessons and tips that I really wish I would have had when I first started learning the guitar.  I was always sure that mechanics existed that could be taught to aid with understanding basic strumming, how to hold a pick, and how to form chords more easily and Neil teaches these elements in a concise and easily understood way.

As I mentioned, I have been working on his campfire song versions of Tequila Sunrise and Boulevard of Broken Dreams.  I played the latter without telling my wife what I was playing and she said “hey, I know that song, that’s Green Day right?” which meant I got it close enough to be recognizable!  TotallyGuitars.com has something called the TARGET program which provides much further in-depth song lessons and an Acoustic Genius program that takes you from having never picked up a guitar to being able to do advanced songs and techniques.

Since I’m traveling the last half of December, I intend to continue devouring the free content but after the first of the year I’m definitely signing up for their TARGET program when I can focus on learning and applying his lessons.  I highly recommend heading over to TotallyGuitars.com and signing up for their free account to test-drive some of Neil’s lessons.  If you like it, sign up for their TARGET program and report back how successful you have been!

Nov 25 2009

Adjusting your strap…

by Josh

Last weekend, I was invited to a jam at my buddy Paul’s house.  Paul had selected a series of easier songs for the jam session and it was a very fun time, however at one point during the night someone was playing on my Fender Stratocaster and remarked that the guitar strap was low.  This fact had occurred to me as well, however I had never taken the time to adjust it.

During a break, I set about the business of adjusting the strap and quickly got it into two pieces without realizing how to put it back together again.  Thankfully, the fine folks over at Levi’s Leathers put together a great diagram that got me back into business.  It seems that I have what is referred to as a “feed through adjustment system.”

A quick disclaimer: I don’t have a Levi’s Leathers strap, but if their straps are as good as their diagrams they’ve got good stuff.