Aug 17 2010

Kid builds guitar, meets his Guitar Hero…

by Josh

What a great, uplifting story of rock excellence. A 14 year-old kid became obsessed with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s “Red Dog” guitar and decided to build a replica himself after scouring Ebay for a month. And then this happened.

I think it’s great when stars recognize their die-hard fans in this way. John, my cousin and contributor here, builds heavy relic guitars in the style of John Mayer over at Custom Relics and it would be SO awesome if this type of thing were to happen for him. John Mayer, if you’re reading out there you know what to do. 🙂


May 26 2010

Video of the new axe!

by Josh

EDIT: I removed the video so I could reshoot a replacement with better audio quality. Please bear with me while I fix this up. 🙂

This is the first time I’ve ever put a video of me playing guitar on YouTube. I made this video to show my new 1957 VOS Les Paul Custom Gold Top, specifically the differences in the pickups. I recorded this with my wife’s Nikon Coolpix camera, so the audio quality isn’t the best but it gets the job done. The amp I used is my Fender Blues Junior, and that’s about all there is to tell about it!


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.

Playability

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.


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.


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 8 2010

Tip of the Week: The String Cleaner

by Josh

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.


Here is a simple tip that will save you time and money.

A great way to save on string wear is to get a clean cloth and wipe down your strings before and after you play.  When you play the oils in your fingers get deposited on the surface of the string.  That can lead to corrosion or even rust leading to bad strings.  Dirty strings are unhappy strings.  So by wiping down your strings before and after each time you play you will save time by not having to change the strings and money by not having to buy them.  A good product is called The String Cleaner.  Its specifically designed with hook shaped microfiber to eliminate virtually all junk from your strings.

The fact that it works better than anything else out there combined with its small, flexible, easy to use design means that it will be money well spent: you will make that back in no time with the strings you don’t need to buy.


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.


Jan 1 2010

Happy 2010!

by Josh

Happy New Year from all of us at The Guitar Zero!

One of my personal goals is to complete TotallyGuitars.com‘s Acoustic Genius program, and while I won’t post details about the specifics of the program I will generalize my progress and post it here along with any realizations that come to me as I go through this training.  For those of you that are interested, I highly recommend their paid content over at Totally Guitars.  To learn more, check out Neil’s informational video.

Over the coming year, I look forward to working through these courses, ripping into some of the books of tablature my family got me for Christmas, working on playing technique, and jamming with my friends more.  I just got done tuning up my guitars for a long year of exercise, happy new year everyone!


Nov 29 2009

TotallyGuitars.com

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!