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.

Mar 4 2011

Practice, iRig, John Mayer and more

by Josh

How quickly a month goes by!

Amid the frenzy of preparation for our new baby, I have found the time to practice on a handful of songs and techniques that have helped me progress (or at very least remain the same).  I have been working on some fingerstyle techniques lately, thanks to my cousin John I found this YouTube video of Dale Turner explaining Hole Notes in the style of James Taylor.  I found the focus on the formation and ornamentation of chords to produce a more interesting song very helpful.

On the electric side of things, I have been continuing to play with my iRig which has succeeded wildly in letting me explore the more rock/metal leanings of my Les Paul.  My stratocaster has not been neglected, thanks to the discovery of this tutorial (with tab!) of John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”.  I am growing to appreciate John Mayer’s guitar abilities… he is one of those artists that I’m not a crazy fan of but I do see that he has talent.  The blues infusion in this particular song and the mellow groove really keeps my interest.  I am by no means good at playing this song, in fact it is a giant struggle to get through the intro but it is helping to practice moving up and down the neck and practicing hammer-ons.

If you like the look of John Mayer’s Black One guitar, John (my co-contributor on this site) operates Custom-Relics.com where he makes a fantastic reproduction of that guitar (among many others).  I have personally laid hands on many of the reproductions that he offers and can tell you that a lot of care goes into making them look “just right.”  Check it out!

Over the next few weeks, I am going to continue working on these songs primarily.  I have a few other projects in the works, but that will have to wait for another time!


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!

May 9 2010

12 Bar Blues…

by Josh

Do you like the blues?  Yeah, so do I.  I regularly get a crop of guitar lessons that are made available via YouTube, and I stumbled upon this 12-bar blues lesson presented by MusicMoose.  It looks like there was a website available to get the tablature from, but it has sadly become a parking page as of 4/22.  YouTube still contains a great number of videos for both banjo and guitar, so be sure to check it out.

What I like about this lesson is he gives you a little bit of information about the key (in this case, E) and some great details about how to make the progression work.  He also includes some tips on strumming and holding the pick which is very nice for beginners like me.  At a bare minimum, it gives you some new things to try.

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!

Sep 21 2009

My Digitech Brian May pedal arrives!

by Josh

My Digitech Brian May Red Special pedal arrived today!  I’ve gotten to play with most of the models and they sound pretty cool, I can’t wait for my new amp to show up so I can hear them on a decent tube amp.  The neat thing about the pedal is how you can control the effects.  On certain models, they’ve also put in things like tape flanger effects which you can control with the pedal itself.

In addition, they thought of some cool touches like including a embroidered satin bag to put the thing in, and a sixpence to use as a plectrum (just like Brian May uses).  I’m very satisfied with the purchase, I can’t wait to practice with it and work on that Bohemian Rhapsody solo with the right tone!

Sep 15 2009

The Amp Search is over!

by Josh

I decided on a Fender Blues Junior amp with a Digitech Brian May pedal to go along with it!

The reasons for this decision are many.  First and foremost, it was a result of good advice I received from many of my friends.  In fact, it was about the only solution that incorporated the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to.  It was a decent tube amp, good volume, and strong enough even for simple gigging should I want to do that at some point in the future.

Instead of going for a tube amp with onboard effects, I opted for a stronger tube amp that is more stripped down.  Several people (my cousin John included) recommended that I go with this approach because most people are unlikely to use all of the modeling that is available on amps that support that type of thing.  I certainly am not to a level where I can use all of those fancy features, so I oped for the “less is more” approach.

Why the Brian May pedal, then?  Simple: Brian May kicks ass, I love Queen, and it saves me the trouble of getting a Red Special replica guitar (for awhile).  Check out the pedal demo from YouTube.

Expect to hear more about both of these items once they arrive and I’ve given them a workout!