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 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!


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!

Sep 19 2010

Acoustic Guitar Building…

by Josh

For the last few months, I have been cultivating an interest in the construction of acoustic guitars.  This started simply enough this summer once I finished my ukulele kit and continued after I saw Andy McKee perform in Denver.  After some research into his Greenfield guitars, I got interested in figuring out what it would take to start building acoustic guitars on my own.

I found a myriad of different kits, and this led people to send me links of other fingerstyle acoustic players including this one by Antoine Dufour.  Dufour plays guitars by Mario Beauregard, who apprenticed from a man named Ervin Somogyi.  As I investigated further, several other luthiers have apprenticed and raved about the abilities of Somogyi so I headed over to his website and found this excellent video.

It seems that Somogyi has written some of the best books available on the topic of acoustic guitar building, but they are very expensive.  After thinking it over for a few months, today I ordered my book and DVD set.  I plan to read them over the winter months and select a project next year to begin.  I plan to start with an acoustic guitar kit or two so I can get some of the mechanics of assembly down, and then attempt hand-building a guitar myself if that goes well.

I am excited about this new hobby, expect to see more here over the coming months!

Aug 22 2010

Instrument building…

by Josh

As I mentioned previously, I am cultivating some interest in learning how to build instruments.

This all began innocently enough… several years ago, my Dad purchased a tenor ukulele kit from Grizzly Industrial, Inc. for me, which unfortunately sat on a shelf for a number of years.  At the end of May, I began constructing the ukulele kit. Over the course of nearly a week of evenings, I built the kit and finished it. Shortly thereafter, I became dissatisfied with the friction pegs and ordered and installed some Grover ukulele tuners, along with some Aquila strings. This made my ukulele complete, and it looks and sounds pretty good for a first try.

You may have noticed by now that I documented this process over at my personal blog. Frankly, I anticipated this project to be a one-off that I just got done because I had the kit handy, but by the time I was finished with the ukulele I enjoyed it so much that I began to think that I should look into trying an acoustic guitar next.

Over the course of several months, I have been investigating possibilities for someone with very little actual woodworking experience to build an acoustic guitar. I found that several companies have acoustic guitar kits of varying degrees of difficulty, the highest rated of these is the StewMac Dreadnought Guitar Kit. This kit comes highly recommended because of the superior instructional guides that come along with it. Several websites have denoted this kit as a good one for beginners, and it produces a very nice guitar as well.

The biggest limiting factor for me right now is tools. The StewMac kit comes with a recommended tool list that is fairly long, so I am going to save up some money over the winter months and begin this endeavor in the Spring. I have already stockpiled a great set of links, reading material, and videos that are further encouraging me so I will share those as time permits, in addition to our regular content about learning the guitar.

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.

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 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! 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 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!

Jun 3 2009

Electric Guitar setup…

by Josh

I got my new 1960’s reissue Fender Stratocaster a few days ago.  I was told that all guitars (electric or otherwise) require a setup periodically to ensure their proper function.  Normally, I would take this type of work to a professional guitar shop (and I recommend you do), however I have a coworker that has a LOT of guitars and knows how to set them up properly so I let him do it.

Today I found out way more about my electric guitar than I possibly could have imagined.  Fender Stratocasters have a floating bridge which means the bridge is suspended above the body of the guitar.  My coworker tells me that the floating bridge is a bit harder to keep in tune, which may explain why the previous owner of my guitar had elected to “lock” the bridge by making adjustments to force the tremolo springs to lower the bridge to nearly flush with the body.

I am told that this is somewhat common with floating bridges.  This modification lowers the strings near the body of the guitar, which was causing the strings to vibrate against the lower frets.  My buddy fixed this up by restoring the bridge to its original configuration, which raised the strings and allowed the neck to flex properly which eliminated the fret buzz.  He then made some fine adjustment to the bridge to get the string height appropriately configured.

He demonstrated several measurements to prove the fixes were complete, but I’m going to have to read more before I understand exactly what he meant.

I will post more details from the setup process as I remember them!

May 21 2009

Barenaked Ladies and Death Cab for Cutie practice and research…

by Josh

I’ve spent the last week periodically practicing some new songs: Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie and Light Up My Room by Barenaked Ladies.

For both of these songs, I received some instruction from my cousin John via Skype.  Soul Meets Body is only three chords, its a decent song to work on strumming and switching chords.  I still don’t quite have the strumming down, but its getting better.  Light Up My Room is one of my long-time favorite songs and I really wanted to learn the intro to that one.  It’s much more fingerpick oriented, but its not that hard of a pattern to figure out if you listen to the song while you practice.

My cousin was able to dig up a reference video for each of these songs: Soul Meets Body from an old appearance on Conan O’Brien and Light Up My Room from YouTube’s Bathroom Sessions.  Watching those videos helped work out the chord formations and some of the strumming/picking patterns to get more comfortable with the songs.

I’ll put up a more detailed post about each song after I work on them a bit more, so keep an eye out for those!

May 11 2009

Concerts: Fleetwood Mac

by Josh

I live near Denver and as a result get the chance to see some pretty great shows.  Last night was no exception, as I got the chance to see legends Fleetwood Mac in concert!

At first, I was a little apprehensive about spending that much money on a concert.  I have absolutely no reservations after the show!  The whole experience was cool… being an older band the crowd wasn’t rowdy at all.  In fact, a lady that reminded me quite a bit of my Mom was sitting next to us.  She warned me that she always cries at “Avalanche” which I can only figure meant “Landslide”… the band came on around 8:20 and played for around two and a half hours and did TWO encores!

The show was being billed as “The Hits” and it did not disappoint… pretty much every song I could think of that even remotely passed as a hit of theirs they did.  The highlights of the night for me was Lindsey Buckingham doing a completely wicked guitar solo that was so good he got an extended standing ovation after it was over.  Mick Fleetwood also had a pretty rocking drum solo during the first encore, which was pretty fun.  Stevie Nicks seemed a little lower in register than I remember her being from her albums, but still worked it out pretty well.  John McVie just seemed to be there… quietly working it out on the bass without too much involvement with the crowd.  The concert was extremely good overall, and my ears were still ringing this morning!

After doing some research, I found out that Lindsey Buckingham plays a Model One guitar from Turner Renaissance guitars that he helped design.  It seems that you too can own that guitar but since you have to email them to find out how much I’m guessing its probably more than I have to spend on a guitar (I emailed them anyway, curiosity got the best of me)!  Lindsey sure could shred that thing… his fingerpicking alone was outstanding.  There is a YouTube clip that shows the solo I mentioned above as evidence of his superior abilities.  I’m going to use the experience of watching him play as a target… if I can get 1/4 as good as he is at fingerpicking I will consider this venture a WILD success!

It was a very worthwhile concert, if they’re coming anywhere nearby everyone should take the opportunity to see them!  If you can’t do that, it seems that there’s already 33 YouTube clips from our concert to enjoy!