Do I have to learn musical theory to play guitar?
“Do I have to learn musical theory to play guitar?”
As a guitar tutor, this is a question I get asked on a regular basis and to my dismay, not one that has a straight forward answer. Depending on who you ask, you might be told its imperative and there is no other way to learn. Others will tell you it’s not necessary at all but ultimately it depends on you, your musical aspirations and what you want to get out of playing the guitar.
I encounter a lot of people who have already decided that learning musical theory isn’t for them and their primary goal is to be able to play some songs that they like. The guitar is an excellent instrument to do this on because it allows you to learn ‘shapes’. A method of memorising where to put your fingers for different chords, scales, arpeggios etc. as opposed to learning what notes your playing. Even by learning as few as four different chord shapes you can already start to play hundreds of different songs, without having to learn the theoretical side of key signatures, chord construction and scales.
In my opinion, this is a really fast and rewarding way to learn guitar. When you first start taking guitar lessons, there can be a lot to take in and remember. It can be overwhelming to get to grips with physically playing the guitar as well as concentrating on the theory at the same time. I think this can deter a lot of beginner students and can overcomplicate your initial encounter with a guitar. The fastest way to improve your guitar playing is to be inspired and motivated. We achieve that by learning things we are passionate about. So the ability to play the songs you love quickly, will make you want to learn more. Once you are feeling more confident with your playing and your ready to kick things up a gear, this is when the theory comes in!
Musical theory is the universal language of musicians. Its a way of communicating with other musicians, through a definitive way of describing the music. Its the difference between ‘this chord sounds jazzy’ and ‘this chord is a C7#9’. When you get to the stage you’re wanting to play with other people, maybe write some music or just gain a deeper understanding of what it is you’re doing, this is the perfect time to fill in the blanks. You already have a base knowledge of how to play the guitar, now you can apply the theory to it. Its much easier to learn how a C major chord is made up, when you already know how to play it, what it looks like and what it sounds like.
This is how I was introduced to musical theory. I self taught myself for a few years until I knew it was time to take things to the next stage and started taking guitar lessons. For me personally, learning musical theory was a really exciting time. It was filled with ‘light bulb’ moments and I was constantly having epiphanies as I learnt how everything was interconnected. The more I found out, the more I wanted to know. It gave me a new found confidence in my playing and allowed me to play more intentionally. Knowing new scales and how they were connected to chords gave me new ways to write more interesting music. I felt like my overall understanding of music was slowly falling into place. It was a very rewarding experience that gave me confidence to join my first band and start playing in public. For lack of a better word, I felt a bit more legit.
I’ve also met a lot of guitarists who feel like they have left it too late to learn musical theory and I can get why they might feel that way. If you’ve been playing for years and not touched on any theory, it can seem like a daunting task, almost like starting from scratch. However, I guarantee you it will rejuvenate your playing! You probably know way more than you think, you might just not have names for things for the things you know or how to use them to their fullest. With a few basic theory lessons you can really start to see playing the guitar with a whole new perspective. You don’t have to learn the notes of the Phrygian dominant scale, but learning key signatures and how chords and scales are constructed will prove incredibly useful.
There are some useful and simple things that you can do yourself, if you feel like its time to know some theory. Start by learning the notes of the strings and notes of the fretboard (you can find a fretboard diagram on the internet), learn the notes of the chromatic scale, find out the difference between a tone and a semi-tone, get yourself a beginners music theory book and start reading. If your having guitar lessons or thinking of taking some, all these things will prepare you, which will give you the best chance of success. It’s also important to find out the best way you learn. Some people find it easier to learn with the guitar in their hands and hear what they are doing, others like to see the theory written down and be taught in a more visual way. By communicating with whoever is teaching you, find the method that is going to help you make the most progress.
There have been hundreds of famous and successful musicians over the years that haven’t had the slightest clue about musical theory and that hasn’t held them back. At its essence playing the guitar should be about creative expression. As long as the music is what you intended to create, it doesn’t really matter how you get there. Music theory is just a tool that can make you more knowledgeable and give you more musical insight. As a result it will enhance the music that you create!
By Adam Ward
4 reasons why playing the Acoustic guitar, also improves your Electric playing!
I’ve been playing guitar for 12 years now! Unlike many beginner guitarists I started learning Electric guitar first, it was a couple of years later before I owned my first Acoustic. Like any 13 year-old who’d just got a new guitar, I was immediately obsessed with it and couldn’t put it down. As a result, I neglected my Electric guitar for a bit whilst I happily strummed along to the likes of Oasis and crew. As you do.
When I eventually got tired of going through open chords and picked up my Electric again, I noticed something… my Electric playing had massively improved. I realised that playing the Acoustic had given some major benefits to my skills on the Electric.12 years on, I still practice and perform on them both and in this article I’m going to explain some of the reasons I think the Acoustic has vastly improved my Electric playing and my musicianship in general.
All you have to do is look at an Acoustic and an Electric guitar next to each other to notice that the Acoustic is just physically bigger. It has a wide hollowed body, thicker neck and usually thicker strings. So it is no surprise it takes a bit more physicality to play it. Sometimes we have to press down on the frets harder to get that warm tone, other times we have to play endless bar chords until our forearm burns. However, this is a productive pain and will stand you in good stead.
Developing stamina is one of the toughest challenges a lot of guitarists face, especially if you don’t get time to play as often as you’d like. Think of playing the Electric guitar as working out and the acoustic guitar as working out with a weighted vest on. It might hurt at the time, but the harder you workout the quicker you’ll get into shape. In my experience, after practicing on my Acoustic then going back to the Electric, my fingers are far more nimble and I can play for way longer on both. I also find playing my Acoustic for 10 minutes or so before starting on the Electric is a great way to warm up!
Playing Acoustic guitar has without a doubt, improved my rhythm playing and ability to keep tempo. Unlike the Electric guitar where you can find yourself playing lots of lead guitar lines and solos, the Acoustic guitar is more widely used as an accompaniment. So as nice as feeling your way through a melodic, tasteful solo on the acoustic can be, a lot of the time you will be providing rhythm guitar… and this should excite you!
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about playing my Acoustic is discovering more ways to create interesting and intricate rhythms in my playing. If you’re like me, you’ll have those moments where you see someone do something amazing and become instantly inspired. One of those moments for me was seeing Andy McKee play his finger-style song Drifting (if you haven’t already, check it out) and being blown away by the way he created so much percussion and groove from his acoustic guitar. I instantly ran to my guitar and started working on my finger picking, trying to perfect the percussive thumb slap and integrate it into my patterns. The heavier gauge strings and hollowed body of the acoustic really helped me lock into the groove.
After some time I moved these techniques over to my Electric. This is where things got interesting. I found that using my newly perfected, percussive thumb slap through a nice warm overdrive gave an amazing feel for lots of playing styles like Blues, Jazz, Soul, RnB and Hip-hop. Also, as my fingerpicking improved, it allowed me to tackle techniques that I had struggled with before, like hybrid picking (using your plectrum and fingers at the same time).
Adjust your musical mindset
I think what attracted me to the Electric guitar is the plethora of sounds you can create from it. There are so many unique pedals, effects and techniques you can use to be creative with your sound, but on the flip side, this is also a reason I love playing the acoustic guitar as well. Its simplicity. Sure, you can run Acoustics through pedals and can have great fun doing so, but at its core, the tone of the acoustic guitar is undeniably unique; like comparing a synthesiser to a grand piano.
So to harness the tone, you have to play with other considerations. While I play my acoustic I find myself being much more aware of how I’m sustaining notes, using extreme dynamics, thinking more melodically in my musical ideas and doing anything I can to maximise the versatility in the sound. I also find due to the acoustic nature of the guitar and the fact you can hear every dead note, scratch and scuff clear as day, it has trained into me a perfection for clarity. Applying all this to my electric playing has been incredibly productive. Instead of increasing the reverb or adding more gain to hide potential scuffs behind the grit, it has made my playing more accurate and most of all, confident. Something as simple (and maybe obvious) as that has really progressed my playing.
Amongst all the other reasons discussed, for me personally, this has had the biggest benefit. Learning the acoustic guitar pointed me in the direction of a lot of new music. Exploring more acoustic dominated genres such as country, folk, classical etc. was not only great fun, but increased my musical knowledge and the understanding of how different styles are written. As a working guitarist, I’ve found it incredibly useful to be what I refer to as a musical chameleon. By learning how to play in different styles and knowing what techniques to use at the right time, It has given me the confidence to blend in to all kinds of genres and as a result, all kinds of opportunities.
So all in all, I credit a lot to my acoustic guitar. It’s taught me things about playing that I don’t think I would have discovered otherwise, at least not as quickly. The other thing to remember is that almost everything is transferable too, in one way or another. Whether it adds rhythmic patterns, melody ideas, chord progressions etc. to your playing, or makes you think of different ways to phrase and approach music, I’m positive you will see the benefits in your playing.
By Adam Ward
A Brief Guide To Overdrive & Distortion
In 1961, in a Nashville recording studio, producer Dan Law and engineer Glen Snoddy were recording Marty Robbins’ ‘Don’t Worry’ when a transistor in one of the channel strips of the console began to fail. This failed transistor produced a grainy sound that gave the bass an exciting and innovative tone that breathed new live into the recording. This was the precursor to one of the most popular guitar effects used in music today: distortion.
Fast forward to 1965 where Dan and Glen have teamed up with Gibson to develop a three-transistor schematic for a pedal that recreates the failed transistor sound and boom, we have the Gibson Maestro fuzz FZ-1, the pedal that started it all. Most notably used by Keith Richards on “(I Cant Get No) Satisfaction” the Maestro Fuzz and the birth of distortion brought new life to guitar playing and players alike, helping them push the guitar forward to create new genres of music.In 2018 there are thousands (and I mean thousands) of distortion pedals to choose from, ranging anywhere from low gain clean boosts to crunchy overdrives, all the way to the infamous Boss Metal Zone with its fizzy awfulness. As a young guitar player it can be hard to identify what kind of distortion you’re looking for when starting out on your sonic journey for the first time, so I thought I’d help out by breaking down distortion pedals into three distinct categories, and discuss what genres I feel they are best suited for, and maybe throw in a couple of my personal favorites to get you started.Overdrive:Overdrive is basically a fancy word for crunch, crunchy guitar sounds. The kind of guitar sounds that make you wanna rip a fat blues solo over pretty much any song you’re playing on, and in fairness that’s essentially where overdrive sits best in my opinion. Overdrive is basically a low gain version of a distortion pedal, meaning that the maximum gain increase you can get out of your pedal isn’t actually that high, think John Mayer, not Slayer. Overdrive pedals also tend to focus on boosting the mid frequencies giving your guitar a brighter more full sound for lead playing.Although there are no rules in the pedal world, overdrive is most commonly used in Blues, Country, Classic Rock, and Pop, although it can be seen used in pretty much any genre as its arguably the most versatile of the three distortions being discussed.
Guide to Guitar Distortion
Dan’ Pick: Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini (£52)Arguably THE most famous overdrive pedal on the planet, the Ibanez Tubescreamer has been used on countless hit songs by countless artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, Noel Gallagher, Alex Turner, Carlos Santana, The Edge, and so many more. This compact affordable version is the perfect place to start understanding what overdrive can bring to your sound as a beginner and can continue to be used all way through your guitar-playing career. With is transparent tone and easy to play feel, the Tubescreamer is a must have pedal in any guitar players arsenal, end of story.Distortion:Despite the word being used as a collective term for all gain based pedals in the early days, distortion these days tends to refer to pedals that are capable of higher levels of gain than your average overdrive. Predominantly used in most forms of Rock, distortion pedals allows guitar players to achieve massive walls of sound by driving the transistors harder, which in turn overloads your signal giving you a bigger, more distorted sound. Distortion can be found anywhere from bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ACDC, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Metallica, Slayer, just all Rock. If you wanna rock, buy a distortion pedal, it’s as simple as that.Pro Tip:Some of the most iconic riffs and solos in Rock history don’t actually use as much gain as you’d expect. Try experimenting with the balance between the gain and volume controls on you distortion to get a more classic sound!
MXR Custom Badass 78’
Dan’s Pick: MXR Custom Badass 78’ (£82):Not the most famous of distortions granted, but this is a fantastic pedal at an affordable price and a great place to start for beginners. This pedal provides classic rock gain in a simple, easy to use box, and will cover most rock styles so you can get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like. It even has a crunch setting, which essentially gives you an overdrive pedal as well! Bargain.Fuzz:We’re back to where it all started. Since the Maestro FZ-1, people have been hunting for bigger, more gnarly distortion sounds, and boy did we find some. Fuzz works by changing the wave of the audio being passed through it to a square wave, which is jargon for making your guitar sound the most distorted that it can. They produce immensely saturated guitar sounds, screaming leads, and endless sustain, perfect for any guitar heavy band. No two fuzz are the same, but an important piece of info to know when starting with fuzz is the difference between Germanium and Silicon transistors. Essentially all that means is that the wiring that creates the distortion inside the pedal work differently, so the tone of the distortion is different. Put simply, Germanium Fuzz is smoother and emits are more classic tone and Silicon produces more gain and emits a brighter more modern sound. It’s not always that black and white but that’s enough info to keep you in loop as you start your Youtube pedal demo search.Fuzz has had many incarnations since its birth in the early 60’s, ranging from psychedelic fuzz used by the likes of Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck, to the epic fuzz sounds of the 70’s from guys like Dave Gilmour, right up to the 90’s and 00’s with bands like Queens of the Stone Age, The White Stripes, and Smashing Pumpkins. For anyone looking for an epic guitar sound that can shatter windows with its high gain endless sustain, then Fuzz is for you.
Dan’s Picks: Electro Harmonix Big Muff mini range (£67-75) Dunlop Fuzz Face mini range (£90-£130)Two classic ranges of pedals on show here, the Big Muff and the Fuzz Face are both pillars in the Fuzz world. Their signature tones can be found scattered across countless records over the years, and the mini range allows for great tone in a more affordable price tag. The mini range also contains several variants on the original circuits, experimenting with different transistors and components to get different sounds, so there is a Fuzz for everybody!
Repair log – December 14th, 2006 Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop guitar SN: xxxxxxxx made in the Nashville Plant, TN, USA
Copyright retained by Terry Relph-Knight 20/06/18
Current value range estimate – £ 1,500 to 2,000
Weight = kg. lbs.
Delivered with Gibson branded hard case
Strung with – 0.008, 0.010, 0.015, 0.024, 0.033, 0.046 ????
This guitar is an extremely well made, double cut away, thin line archtop electric. A classic Gibson dot neck, 19 frets to the body in cherry finished flame maple. In pristine condition.
Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop
Body – Thin-line double cutaway arch-top semi-acoustic of laminated flamed maple ply with a maple centre block and two F holes. Finished in cherry nitro with cream plastic binding back and front.
Neck – A one piece mahogany neck with a medium U’ profile and cream binding. 22 medium frets on a rosewood fretboard, 12 inch fret radius. Dot mother of pearl fret markers above the 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 19 and 21st frets. Truss rod adjustable from the headstock, 5/16 brass hex nut. The neck tenon extends half way under the neck pickup. 24 3/8inch scale length.
Hardware – The 2 Gibson humbuckers are ‘57 Classic’s (I unscrewed the pickups and checked the labels on the back). They have a replica black and gold Patent Applied For sticker (which is kinda funny) and a label – ‘57 Classic 1212060303 on the neck and ‘57 Classic 1212060237 on the bridge (made on the 12th of December 2006). They have nickel plated nickel silver bases and covers. So the two pickups appear to be the same. Gibson also make the ‘57 Classic Plus which has a few more turns on the coils for a higher output and you might expect to find it in the bridge position. That doesn’t appear to be the case here. The ‘57 Classic pickups, like the Burstbucker, are intended to mimic the best of the old 1957 PAF pickups. They have the lower strength Alnico II magnets and, unlike the Burstbucker, the two coils are balanced, which offers maximum hum rejection, but a slightly warmer tone than the Burstbuckers. In this guitar the ‘57 Classics do sound great, warm and smooth with great definition.
According to Jim DiCola, master luthier at Gibson USA, the ’57 Classic is made to Seth Lover’s original specifications, to the exact letter, in particular the two coils are very closely matched, while the Burstbucker is a consistent version of how the production PAF pickups were actually made, with an imbalance between the two coils. The Burstbucker version 1,2 and 3 also has Alnico II magnets. The legendary pickup maker Tom Holmes apparently worked for Gibson on the design of the ‘57 Classic. Holmes has built guitars for Billy Gibbons and is perhaps the first person to produce an accurate reproduction of the original Gibson PAF pickups.
In the original production PAFs the coils were used as they came off the winding machine, with no attempt at matching and the magnets used might be Alnico II, IV or V, depending on what Gibson happened to have purchased for each inventory period.
The controls on this guitar are the usual Gibson two volumes, two tones and three way toggle switch. I don’t know if the volumes are 300K linear or 500K log. The controls are fitted with Gibson small black witch hat knobs and metal pointers. Floating three-ply black pick guard. Nickel plated zinc alloy Gibson ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar.
Grover three on a side sealed nickel plated tuners with metal kidney buttons.
Bridge height – guitar top to top of the thumbwheel – 8mm on the bass 8mm on the treble
Stop bar height – guitar top to underside of the bar – 6.5mm on the bass 3mm on the treble
I’m not sure why anyone would choose to tilt the stop bar like that. The two threaded bridge supports are screwed quite far into the body. Their tops are around 3mm below the top of the holes in the bridge.
The threaded bridge support posts are UNC 6-32 thread by 1 inch (25.4mm) long. Around 7/16 (12mm) of an inch is driven in to the top of the guitar. This leaves very little of the post within the post holes in the bridge.
Delivered strung with – Ernie Ball Nickel wound Super Slinky’s 0.009, 0.011, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042.
Problems – In for a general check and setup. Needs a good clean and polish. Exhibits the usual tuning instability of nut stick for a Gibson instrument with 3 on a side tuners. Customer also wanted to try a vibrato on the guitar. Originally a Bigsby, but by the time the necessary modifications were added to avoid drilling holes in the guitar and to stabilise the Bigsby tuning problems, this would have been a very expensive option. I suggested a Duesenberg Les Trem II vibrato.
Work done –
Guitar cleaned and polished. Frets level checked with a fret rocker. Frets and neck cleaned and polished. Polished the corian nut with metal polish on a toothbrush, including flossing the the string slots with string offcuts, to reduce friction through the strings slots as much as possible. Also sprayed on a coat of beeswax and buffed the nut to a high gloss. Tuning still wasn’t stable so I also fitted a String Butler (later upgraded to a String Butler Tremolo model).
Fitted the Duesenberg Les Trem II vibrato in place of the stop bar.
The Gibson 6-32 bridge posts are an acceptable fit in the Goldo bridge post holes so I stayed with them rather than removing them and drilling to fit the Goldo inserts and posts. I stabilised the Gibson posts by fitting 6 washers underneath the thumb wheels, drilled and tapped the Goldo for M3 locking screws and then locked the bridge in place. I had to fit the Goldo bridge with the locking screws and intonation screws facing towards the bridge pickup otherwise access to the screws is blocked by the Duesenberg vibrato. The bridge pickup height can be dropped down to improve access to the intonation screws while intonation is set.
Re-strung and set up the action and intonation. I tried winding the strings with one turn below the string through the post hole then two turns above the hole. I wanted to lock the strings and minimise the break angle over the nut to help tuning stability by reducing friction over the nut. In practice this didn’t work very well because the coils of the string didn’t settle smoothly around the post. The easiest way by far to get a tidy string wind around the post is to allow the right amount of slack for two or three winds around the post and then to feed the string on from the bottom.
This guitar suffers from the same problem that all recent Gibson’s with a corian nut suffer from – the strings do not slide smoothly through the nut. As a result any string bends result in the string going slack when the bend is released and the tuning goes flat by around 10 cents on every string.
Adding a vibrato system of course just makes things a lot worse! One difficulty is that with the vibrato the string tension of all six strings interacts because they are coupled together by the vibrato balancing spring. If even one string jams in the nut then this change in net tension affects the tuning of all six strings. When using a fixed stop bar, rather than the vibrato, any nut jamming problems with each string are confined just to that string.
Rather than replace the unpolished Plek cut Gibson corian nut straight away I wanted to try to get the existing nut to work. Extreme care is needed when making any adjustments to a Gibson nut because Gibson choose to set the Plek to cut the slots as low as they will go before buzzing on the first fret. Added to that the nut is shaped to a sharp edge to minimise the amount of cutting the Plek machine has to do. Unlike many other guitars, there just isn’t much leeway in the Gibson nut slots.
First I tried polishing the nut with metal polish on a toothbrush. Although this did a fine job of polishing the surface of the nut, it seems it did not get right down into the string slots. Next I tried flossing the slots with offcuts of guitar string coated in a few dabs of metal polish. To my vast surprise this actually seems to have worked!
Intonation as received
This test consists of first accurately tuning each string to pitch, depressing each string behind the nut until it touches the headstock, then releasing it. The pitch is then measured (and recorded). If the string is sticking in the nut the string will go sharp.
If any problems are found the nut slots are filed and lubricated and the test is repeated.
The second set of numbers are from tuning up to pitch then applying a whole step bend to each string.
Behind nut bendWhole step bend Bend – After all modifications
E +10 -10 0
A +11 -10 0
D +22 -3 0
G 0 -10 0
B +15 0 0
E +10 -3 0
Note – There is still some tuning instability for extreme use of the vibrato.
The Duesenburg Les Trem II
The Duesenburg Les Trem II won’t fit this guitar without modification because the inserts for the stop bar fixing studs are on 82.5mm centres. The DLTII requires the fixing centres of the stop bar mounting studs to be 81.5mm apart.
The nickel plated stop bar from this guitar looks like a standard Gibson part, but has no identifying marks. The distance between the inside faces of the two stud hooks is 73.6mm and the hooks are 7.9mm wide. So the fixing centres should be 81.5mm. Unlike the Les Trem II there is enough clearance left in the Gibson stop bar for it still to fit with the studs at 82.5mm.
Drawings of the Wilkinson stop bar show the centres as 82mm, Allparts shows it as 82mm and AxesRus Gotoh as 82mm, AxesRus aluminium as 82.5mm and AxesRus zinc as 82.5mm.
So the only way to fit the DLTII is to file or drill out the holes in its base plate to gain the clearance for the two bolts. Seems dumb that Duesenberg didn’t elongate the holes to allow for variations in the insert spacing.
I had thought perhaps that the guitar wouldn’t fit in the hard case with the DLTII installed, but I have done a test fit with it attached by only one of the stop bar bolts and there seems to be plenty of clearance.
Eventually I filed the outsides of both fixing holes just a little and managed to get the DLTII to fit the stop bar insert spacing on this guitar. I fitted just one washer under each end which was enough to clear the top curve of the guitar. The entire assembly with the arm fitted seems to go inside the case just fine, even without any string tension pulling it down.
Another possible drawback of the Les Trem II is that the spring and bar pivot are quite close to the bridge and some players may find that this protrusion gets in the way, depending on playing style.
The Goldo roller bridge
The Goldo bridge has 4mm holes at either end (the holes in the ABR-1 are close to that) and is supplied with solid posts with integral thumb wheel that screw in to press fit inserts. The guitar has an ABR-1 bridge with two threaded posts screwed in to the top of the guitar. So the option is either remove the two posts and re-drill the top of the guitar for the Goldo inserts, or keep the threaded posts and fit the Goldo to those.
With lock screws fitted to either end of the Goldo bridge, once those are tightened, the bridge will no longer be adjustable for height through turning the thumb wheels. I decided to stabilise the bridge and stop the thumb wheels coming loose and rattling, by fitting a stack of washers under each thumb wheel. The Gibson ABR-1 measures 12.1mm and the Goldo roller 13.3mm from the curved base to the top of the centre two saddles. So the Goldo is 1.2mm higher than the Gibson. To fit the Goldo subtract that 1.2mm from the previously measured 8mm thumb wheel heights and set them at 6.8mm to arrive at around the same action. Which is 6 x 0.63 mm thick washers = 3.15 under the 2.72mm thumb wheel.
Re-stringing – Three wraps of the strings around the Grover tuner posts requires 52mm of string. This is more than enough for the wound E, A and D strings. The lighter strings can be allowed a few more wraps. Unstable loops of string around the tuner post will contribute to tuning instability.
I experimented with different methods of stringing such as winding the string upwards above the string through the tuner post (to reduce the angle over the nut) and one turn under the string through the rest above to help lock the string in the post. Eventually decided that winding the string onto the post neatly for two or three turns below the hole is the easiest, most efficient and most stable way to do it.
Note also that the brass ball on bridge end of the strings is attached with a simple twist. This can and does, act like slip knot and settling in this twist is one of the main causes of tuning drift when new strings are fitted. At worst slipping in the ball end twist can be a long term cause of tuning problems. The more expensive strings tend to have more reliable twists. D’Addarrio NYXL for example have solder bonded twists for the plain strings.
With this guitar it is very important to guide the strings in to the centre of the bridge rollers and rollers on the String Butler.
The String Butler
The String Butler is device that is intended to stabilise tuning for guitars which have 3 on a side tuner headstock’s, such as Gibson, by deflecting the strings into a straight path over the nut. It is attached using the barrel nuts on two tuners. It consists of a metal plate with an attachment forks on either side that clamp under the two tuner nuts. The plate carries four rollers on short vertical posts. The A, D, G and B stings are passed around the rollers, pulling them into a straight path across the nut. This helps to reduce friction in the nut slots, particularly on the D and the G strings which normally angle both downward and to either side and almost always exhibit tuning problems due to nut stick.
On the standard version of the String Butler the rollers have perhaps 2mm of vertical movement. This in itself can be a source of tuning problems. The ‘tremolo’ version has small rubber O rings fitted above the rollers to reduce vertical movement. Sven Dietrich at Sting Butler sent me a String Butler Tremolo version, which I ordered to replace the butler I borrowed from my Les Paul and a packet of eight 4.5mm outside diameter, 2.5mm inside diameter O rings. The String Butler Tremolo version ships with a single O ring fitted above each string roller, limiting the slack vertical space on the roller posts.
Guitar Lessons in London with London Guitar School
Check out Guitar Lessons London : London Guitar Academy Adam and his immaculate guitar playing. Adam is a wonderful musician/teacher who has a unique command of the guitar. His musicality, fluidity & phrasing always shine. He has wonderful delicate balance to his playing and he has fantastic repertoire, and a huge plethior of guitar technique he is ready to share with you. Adam teaches from our Clapham studio and is ready & available to teach YOU!
Adam has been key member of the London Guitar Academy team for the past few years and is a true professional. His friendly, warm personality and eye for detail have made Adam a real favourite with our pupils. You can expect to learn lots of new songs and loads of great rhythms and to be able to finger pick like a guitar great.
One to one Guitar Lessons London
London Guitar School have teachers ready and able teach a huge array of guitar styles including pop, folk, rock, blues, funk, metal, country, flamenco and classical guitar lessons on electric and acoustic guitars. No matter what age or level you are you are always more than welcome @ Guitar Lessons London.
Alternate tuning DADGAD
As a teenager I was so cool that most of the music I listened to was recommended to me by my dad. This was often in the shape of classic British and American singer songwriters such as James Taylor and Steve Earle, and while I have since diversified somewhat, the influence that this sound had on my development and style have been really important to me as a musician. I found there to be something soulful and joyful about this acoustic sound that seemed to have depth in antiquity as well as feeling effortlessly contemporary, even decades after release. I would spend a lot of time carefully listening through particular tracks so I could then attempt to work out the pieces on my guitar, trying wherever I could to replicate certain stylistic riffs and movements. Whilst I usually had little trouble working out faithfully accurate recreations, there were a few guitarists that would more often than not leave me stumped, and totally unable to recapture the mood and tone of their songs. This was made all the more annoying by the fact that I almost invariably had this issue with the guitarists whose style I most admired. They were, at the time, Stephen Stills, John Martyn and Richard Thompson. What I heard when listening to them was to me rich and engaging, and despite being able to find the correct structure and chord sequences, I just could not make my guitar sing in the same way.
Around this time, and during a family get together at the home of an uncle of mine who is an excellent guitarist himself, I did the done thing for a teenager and eventually sloped off for a bit of space away from the people I love. It was then that I found a guitar magazine and came across an article about the alternate tuning DADGAD. I followed the instructions, tuning both the low and high E strings down by a whole tone to D, along with the B string also down a tone to A, then picked through a couple of the riffs that were tabbed out in the piece. Suddenly something clicked, and I found there to be something familiar to me about this sound. Over the next few weeks I spent my practice time discovering more about this tuning, using my ear to find chords and patterns within these new parameters. I found it very exciting to be exploring this new way of playing, as there now seemed to be a new and greater depth and tone to almost everything that I tried. I then had the idea of going back to many of the songs that I had before struggled to learn, as now I was able to try them from a new angle, and with much more success. Suddenly I could emulate the dry twang of a Stills song, or the rhythmic strut and swing of John Martyn’s playing, all while keeping the sound rich and full.
It is almost limitless what you can already achieve on a guitar in standard tuning, but when you discover the use of alternate tunings it is almost like being introduced to several new instruments. The quality and timbre of each string can be manipulated in many ways, to help you to discover a plethora of new voices within your guitar. When I first started experimenting with DADGAD, I initially placed my first finger on the second fret of the 3rd string, and strummed all 6 of the strings, giving me a D5 chord. All I had with this chord was a D in three different octaves, and an A in two octaves, but what enticed me about this sound was a deep hum and buzz in the strings; there was something much more alive about this simple D5 chord. From there I began to explore songs in the key of D, and found that the richness and simplicity of the chord shapes gave me much more freedom to play around with the rest of the fretboard, generally finding more ‘diddly’ bits on the higher strings, while still allowing low tones to ring out and mingle underneath.
Music is so often about exploration and discovery, and I find that many guitarists can lose much of their interest once they feel that they are repeatedly playing the same pieces and running down the same dead ends. While it is very important to be meticulous in practice, and to perfect anything that you begin to work on, musical motivation can often falter with the loss of discovery and excitement. This is where alternate tunings can become invaluable. Changing the voicing and tones available to you is a great chance to start again, and to experiment purely through what you hear as opposed to what you know. Whenever I am faced with a tuning that is entirely new to me, I frequently begin by trying to forget what I know about scales, progressions and intervals, and simply begin by picking out various strings and placing my hands along the fretboard, attempting to follow feelings and voices, and seeing where it leads me. This can be a massively liberating way of learning, as pleasing moods and patterns will begin to emerge through your own, totally independent discovery, and the sound that you create will feel unique and personal.
So next time you find yourself falling out of love with your guitar, look up some new tunings, and find one that sits well in your ear. Take your time then to discover it, and you may find yourself to be captivated by a whole new set of voices, and then to be compelled to spend more time with your guitar, not working through a tab or following a YouTube tutorial, but instead just getting to know it all over again. The use of alternate tunings has since become integral to the development of my style and ability, and I often find myself returning to where it all began with the DADGAD tuning. Even now after all this time, it still has so much for me to discover.
Repair Log: 1998 Martin D28 rosewood back and sides, figured spruce top dreadnought SN: xxxxxx
23/06/18 Copyright retained Terry Relph-Knight
New D28s list at $3,299
Current value – £1,089 to £1,479
Supplied with a Martin ABS hard case.
Serial number is on the inside face of the heel block.
A classic Martin D28 14 frets to the body, with one piece mahogany fake bridal joint dart neck, with rosewood headstock veneer, rosewood fret board (20 narrow frets, mother of pearl dots) and bridge, bone nut and saddle and Indian rosewood back and sides. The guitar has had a headstock repair at some point. A small crack is visible just below the volute and the area has been over sprayed in a dark brown. Top is of highly figured spruce with a black scratch plate. I contacted Martin and they confirmed the date of the guitar, but said they had no special notes on its construction and that the highly figured top must just be luck of the draw. 6 ply binding/purfling back and front of the body. The two piece rosewood back has a dash pattern centre stripe. The Martin name and est. in 1833 is stamped on the top of the headstock in gold ink.
The 6 white bridge pins look fancy with a central abalone dot, but they are in fact soft plastic.
Bone nut and saddle. The saddle may have been replaced since it does stand quite high and contributes to the high action. Removing the saddle from the bridge reveals a pencil line 2mm above the bottom, so it looks as though it was marked to be cut down, but the cut was never made.
The guitar has a high action due to a combination of a belly bulge and the high saddle. If, as suspected, the high saddle is a replacement that was never cut down then this itself will put extra tension on the top and be contributing to the degree of belly bulge.
The bridge has been drilled at either end for an under saddle pickup and the body is fitted with a wooden end pin with circumferential scratches in the finish, well below the waist of the pin. This may indicate that the guitar was at one time fitted with an under saddle pickup and an end pin jack which have now been removed. This would explain why the saddle had perhaps been replaced and never properly fitted.
Martin D28 rosewood back and sides Repair Log
A tap test on the body shows it is very lively and resonant. As you might expect the back has higher, harder pitch than the boomier front.
Stamped onto the liner strip that spans the join between the two halves of the back is the instruction – USE MEDIUM GAUGE STRINGS OR LIGHTER ONLY
Small sealed chrome plated tuners branded Martin, probably made by Ping.
The truss rod adjusts inside the body at the end of the fret board, accessed via a cut out in the top brace just inside the soundhole. A large L Martin 3/16 inch hex key is usually required (supplied in the case). Owner says this is jammed – he is right, it won’t move.
Problems – High action. Needs a good clean. Is missing the heel cap. The guitar has a fair bit of belly lift. We agreed the first thing to try would be to lower the saddle by 2mm (fit a new saddle and keep the old one just in case). Owner likes ease of play and a bright punchy sound so agreed to fit a set of Elixir 11 to 52 bronze. These are light gauge for acoustic so they will put less stress on the top and feel easier and slicker to play. The brass wound strings gives them a brighter sound.
Work done – Replaced the original bone saddle with a Graph Tech saddle shaved to produce the 2mm height reduction and lower action. Fitted a set of brass bridge pins replacing the old plastic pins. Brass pins are harder wearing and add a little mass, improving sustain. Soft plastic pins damp some of the string vibration. Cut and glued on a new rosewood heel cap. Cleaned and polished the body and neck. Checked the fretboard for high frets, buffed the frets and cleaned and oiled the fretboard. Loosened the jammed truss rod, lubricated the truss rod nut and re-adjusted for a little forward bow. Fitted a set of 10 to 47 Elixir (bronze) brass winding on the wound strings.
Straightened the bend out of the case lid, cleaned the outside of the case and vacuumed dust and grit out of the inside.
This guitar does seem to have a particularly flexible top and it may at some point have been fitted with heavy strings, which Martin warns against with the internal stamp – USE MEDIUM GAUGE STRINGS OR LIGHTER ONLY. This may account for the belly bulge (see below).
Rosewood back and sides 1998 Martin D28
Evidence suggests that at some point it may have been fitted with an under-saddle pickup, with the original saddle shortened. If so the pickup has been removed and the saddle has probably been replaced with a new saddle that was never trimmed to height for the correct action.
The guitar has a fairly pronounced belly bulge and the bridge noticeably tilts forwards. With the strings off and therefore tension off the guitar most the bulge relaxes and the bridge and top flattens out. None of the bracing seems loose. A JLD Bridge Doctor could be fitted to completely remove the bulge.
Even without the belly bulge the action seems a little high. With only the low E string replaced and measured ‘open string’ there is 7/64s of an inch between the top of the twelfth fret and the bottom of the string.
Apparently the Martin guitar factory considers the action to be within specification if the distance from the 12th fret to the bottom of the low E string is between 2.38 mm (3/32″) minimum, to 2.78 mm (7/64″) maximum. So without the belly bulge this guitar would meet that spec.
The high ‘e’ treble string should measure between 1.59 mm (1/16″) and 1.98 mm (5/64″) at the maximum.
Fitted with the 10 to 47 Elixir and with the new saddle lowered, the guitar meets the Martin specification, Low E is at 7/64 and the high E is at 1/16.
The truss rod was adjusted so the neck was dead flat, there may even have been a little back bow. The owner says he has tried adjusting the truss rod, but it seems jammed and won’t move. Eventually managed to unscrew it (anti-clockwise). It had been turned clockwise as tight as it could go, probably in an effort to reduce the high action. Seems to be a single action rod and the adjustment nut feels like it will come off altogether. It does – hex tube or rod nut 9mm diam by 30mm long. I lubricated it with a little grease in the threads and replaced it. Tightened it by 2/3rds of a turn from slack.
Martin Acoustic strings run from 10 to 47 extra light, through 11 to 52 custom light and 12 to 54 light, up to 13 to 56 medium. String makers seem to have stopped using the description ‘heavy’ for strings, so ‘medium’ is now the old ‘heavy’.
As delivered the guitar was fitted with a set of
0.011, 0.016, 0.025, 0.032, 0.042, 0.054
Re-strung with Elixir 80/20 Bronze Nanoweb
0.010, 0.014, 0.023, 0.030, 0.039, 0.047
It will have less bulge and be easier to play with the set of 10 to 47 as detailed above.
Mastering the Pentatonic
Article 4 – Mark Knopfler; “Sultans of Swing”, adding the 2nd, and flirting with Harmonic Minor.
The Pentatonic Scale is the holy grail for guitarists. It’s easy to play and it sounds amazing.
This series will show you how to get the most out of our favourite scale, and how making small modifications will get you sounding like the pros and their signature sound.
With any scale, it is important to learn the shape starting on the E string (like in previous articles) but also starting on the A string. This article will be using the D minor pentatonic at fret 5 on the A string (see right).
You will notice an extra note added in blue, this is the 2nd, a note Knopfler often uses in a trill with the minor 3rd (see in the licks below).
Achieving the signature Knopfler sound isn’t just about note section but also articulation and phrasing. You will very rarely (if ever) see Knopfler using a pick. He employs a “claw” technique between his thumb, first and second finger. This means he plays lines that you might not think up with a pick. This also leads to the heavy use of double stops; playing two notes at the same time, and rakes.
“Sultans of Swing” licks: 1. Intro
This opening lick perfectly shows the 3 main ingredients to Knopfler’s playing; the pentatonic scale, finger- style, and the use of the 2nd.
Bar 1 & 2 is made up of a classic pentatonic lick with lots of vibrato. Bar 3 has a “rake” in it from the G string to the E string, quintessentially Knopfler – assign a finger to each string and make it snappy! It’s also worth noting that these notes make up a D minor arpeggio and highlight the chord underneath perfectly, another Knopfler move. Finally we have a hammer-on-pull-off between the 2nd and m3 on the B string.
2. Verse double stops
Here we see how Knopfler uses double stops. They reinforce the harmony but also act as a rhythmic device. The syncopated pattern help push these couples bars along. Play these using your 1st and 2nd finger, with the final triad being played with thumb, 1st and 2nd finger.
Below is a lick that is made up of all the ideas we have discussed so far.
3. Verse Harmonic Minor use.
Although very much in D minor, “Sultans of Swing” throws in an A dominant 7 chord every now and again, a chord “outside” the key. If you were to play a D minor pentatonic over the A7, the C (m7) of the D minor pentatonic would clash with the C# (3rd) of the A7 chord. To get around this, Knopfler dips into a D Harmonic Minor scale, which is a D minor scale with a major 7th:
Roger Waters British Summer Time Hyde Park
On the perfect evening in the greatest city on the planet Roger Waters filled the hot summer air with some on the greatest songs ever written. In front of a enthusiastic capacity crowd of around 65,000, the legendary Pink Floyd frontman singer-songwriter fashioned a performance that was both sublimely entertaining and luxuriously familiar. With UK session Guitarist Dave Kilminster playing Dave Gilmour‘s seminal guitar parts. Roger’s live shows have always built in a adventurous dynamic a visual element to compliment the outstanding music. an to fight was no exception with a cutting edge lighting display to accompany the multitude of hits. This gig was also attended by London Guitar Academy pupils & lots of old school friends of mine. Hearing ” Wish you were here” was particularly special as is well and truly a firm favourite among the LGA family…oh and the stage looks really like Battersea power station!
Live Review: Roger Waters at British Summer Time, Hyde Park, 06/07/18 Set List
“To sum up quintessential English musical evening is not always eas,y but its fair to say this was the perfect evening with the whole section of the soundtrack of your life washing over you glorious melodies, excellent musicianship and the perfect venue to showcase your extraordinary talents. Thank You Roger Waters “
- Speak to Me
- One of These Days
- Breathe (Reprise)
- The Great Gig in the Sky
- Welcome to the Machine
- Déjà Vu
- The Last Refugee
- Picture That
- Wish You Were Here
- Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
- Set 2
Dogs From the album “Animals”
Money The Dark Side of the Moon
Us and Them The Dark Side of the Moon
Smell the Roses
Repair log: Harley Benton PB-50 LH FR (1950’s, Precision Bass, Left Handed in Fiesta Red) Vintage Series
Copyright retained, Terry Relph-Knight 20/06/18
Cost – £ 95.82 + shipping
Delivered with a black soft gig bag.
Fender do not currently make a single coil vintage precision bass in their standard range, let alone a left handed version. The closest is the Mike Dirnt Road Worn® Precision Bass® with a split humbucker pickup at £1,399.
A Fender 52 Precison Bass is only available from the Custom Shop.
The customer brought this bass to me because he wanted the headstock re-shaped from the Harley Benton outline to the correct shape for a Fender 50s Precision Bass.
This bass is a Thomann in house brand, far east made, left handed version of the Fender 1951 Precision bass with the four pole single coil pickup and design features carried over from the Telecaster. It is a long scale instrument 864mm, 34 inches. It ships with D’Addario round wound strings 0.045, 0.065, 0.080, 0.100. Perhaps EXL170 ?, £22.99 of value just in the strings.
This instrument represents astounding value for money. Like most low cost Chinese instruments it looks great and the paint finish is excellent, but there are signs of rapid finally assembly by semi-unskilled workers – the string tree barely attached by a very small screw at an odd angle, the untidy fit of the neck in the neck pocket and the neck screws fitted at odd angles.
Harley Benton PB-50 LH FR (1950’s
With just a little corrective work this bass is a unique looking instrument that plays well and sounds great.
Body – A basswood contoured body (probably in four or five pieces) in a Fiesta Red high gloss finish with a white vinyl single ply pick guard. Some of the countersinking for the pick guard attachment screws could be a little deeper. No neck shimming in the neck pocket. This body has forearm and belly contours and a fairly heavy edge radius, all of which the original 1951 instrument would not have had.
Unlike the review of one of these basses on YouTube, this instrument does not have a hidden hole under the pickguard, the hole for the pickup lead is correctly drilled, from the pickup cavity through to the control cavity. Fair amount of dust under the pick guard. The control cavity is not screened.
Neck – A substantial modern C profile, two piece maple neck with a glued on 16 inch radius, 20 jumbo fret maple fret board (truss rod obviously routed and fitted from the front). Black plastic dot markers. Dual action truss rod adjusts at the headstock with a 4mm Hex key. Removed from the body the neck is almost flat with just a hint of forward bow. Rod had maybe 1 and ½ turns clockwise. White plastic 42mm nut. 4 bolt neck plate with a black plastic cushion. The four screws were very tight in their holes and had been drilled and fitted at odd angles. The corners of the heel are a bit sharp and the neck doesn’t fit all the way to the bottom of the neck pocket – there is about a 1mm gap.
Hardware – Pickup: Roswell VTN4 Vista Vintage PB Style single coil (specd. At 9Kohm DC resistance, actual DC resistance is 8.81K). Black Forbon flatwork, top printed with the Roswell logo in white, four ¼ inch Alnico 5 rod magnets, coil wrapped in black fabric tape.
L in HenrysQResistance
120Hz 4.114 0.3574 8.882
1000Hz 4.137 2.710 9.602
16mm Volume (B250K lin, 247.5K measured and treble A250K log, 257.6K measured) controls on a Tele prototype style chromed plate. Chromed dome knobs with plastic push on inserts. Wiring isn’t terrible. As this is left handed instrument the controls operate in reverse, so its anti-clockwise for more volume or treble. The linear volume is reasonably smooth but the log treble wired in reverse is of course, very on/off. The precision basses from the ‘50s had a 0.05uF (50nF) tone cap and today the nearest standard capacitor value would be a 0.047uf (47nF). The capacitor fitted is a 68nF nominal value plastic film capacitor which measures at 73.26nF. This larger value would also tend to exaggerate the on / of nature of the tone control.
The chromed 4 saddle bridge plate is probably a zinc alloy casting, but the barrel saddles are of chrome plated steel. 4 Kluson style elephant ear tuners with centre split posts. The tuner posts are steel, not zinc alloy, I don’t know if the chromed gear is cast zinc or brass. A single round string tree between the E and the A tuners. String tree screw is very small, is fitted at a weird angle, and barely bites into the headstock.
The strap buttons are rather notional – small and without much taper.
Problems / modifications – Customer wanted the Harley Benton headstock outline re-shaped to something closer to the original Telecaster shape. As became apparent, the Volume and Tone controls are unsuitable values and do not work well. The output jack is very cheap and flimsy.
Very poor intonation.
Work done – Disassembled the bass and checked for fit and finish. Deepened the pick guard screw countersinking a little, as a few of the screws were standing a little proud. Countersunk the screw holes in the body to minimise any possibility of finish cracking around the holes. Countersunk the screw holes in the neck to minimise tear out and ensure a flush fit to the bottom of the neck pocket.
Sanded a little more of a radius on to the corners and back of the heel to improve the neck fit.
Lubricated the four neck screws with candle wax so they aren’t quite so stiff to screw home.
Re-cut the outline of the headstock to be closer to a ‘53 precision bass, using a template for a Mike Dirnt signature bass. Sealed the cut surfaces with 3 coats of Danish oil.
Plugged the string tree hole, re-drilled it and fitted a more robust screw. Fitted a matched pair of more robust screws to the jack plate.
Replaced the volume and tone controls with Alpha 25mm 250K anti-logarithmic pots, the tone cap with a 0.047uF (46.22nF measured) plastic film capacitor and the output jack with a Switchcraft jack. Re-assembled and adjusted the intonation, which was way out. Also tweaked the action/saddle heights a little as the saddles were all at odd angles.
Intonation as delivered (now adjusted for zero error)
It doesn’t seem as though intonation was ever set on this instrument as it was a long way out. Probably the saddles were left in a what looked like a sensible stair step pattern as the bridge came off the factory pile. The saddle heights also don’t seem to have received much attention since all four are slightly tilted.
As with most bass string sets the two low strings in the D’Addario set fitted are double wound while the two uppers are single wound. Consequently the intonation compensation for the two pairs of strings is almost the same, with the two single wound strings requiring a shorter string length than the two double wound. This explains why Leo Fender thought he could get away with only two saddles, each saddle sharing a pair of strings, for the original design of this bass.
Action as delivered – open string action at the twelfth fret – G 2mm E 3mm
After adjustment G 2mm E 2.5mm
A fret rocker test did not reveal any high frets.