Is there an Echo? A Brief History of Reverb
Reverb, Verb, Echo. For a lot of music listeners reverb is an effect that is often overlooked, or in some cases unacknowledged. It can sit so sweetly underneath a mix, or completely consume it and make your guitar/song sound like its being performed underwater. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: without reverb, there wouldn’t be music as we know it today. So lets dive right in to it shall we?
What is reverb? Reverb is basically a musical term for a captured space; it’s the sound of the room the instrument is being played in, having an impact on the sound of the instrument being recorded. For example, have you ever clapped in a cave and listened to the echo? What you’re listening to is reverb, it’s the sound of your clap being dispersed across the cave and bouncing off the walls and travelling back to you, cool right?
Back in the early 1920s, studio engineers began experimenting with recorded reverb by attempting to capture the space of the room on the recordings through microphone placement and recording in different rooms to achieve different desired reverb effects. This type of reverb is referred to as ‘Natural reverb’, because you’re literally capturing the natural space of the room.
It’s hard to believe that many record labels boycotted the use of reverb on recordings over something as silly as a jukebox, but they did.
With the invention of the jukebox sweeping the nation as the new way to listen to music in bars and diners across U.S in the 1930s, record labels were at the mercy of its primitive playback technology that was incapable of playing music with reverb on it without sounding terrible, so they stopped
using it. Which is why most recordings from the 1930s- 1940’s are often described as dry.
Fast-forward to the post war era and playback technology had finally caught up and evolved Pokémon style into futuristic Hi-Fi systems. A more advanced playback system capable of playing records with higher quality audio that wouldn’t suffer from the use of reverb. The solution brought by Hi-Fi allowed to producers to bring back the use of reverb on their recordings and pushed them to invent new and exciting ways to create reverb.
Needless to say, reverb is a confusing subject. I’ve been sat at my friend’s kitchen table all morning driving myself crazy trying to find a way to present the origins of reverb in a concise and informative manner, but if I actually attempt to do so you’ll be reading this article for the rest of your life. So what am I going to do? Well, this is a guitar tutoring website, and I’m a guitarist trying to provide helpful content for other guitarists, so I’m going to get back to talking about guitars as soon as I can so we can all walk away from this article happy and I can go and teach later. Sound good? Good.
Essentially all I skipped regarding reverb history is that engineers were looking for more control over the reverbs they were capturing without having to rerecord an entire song again in a different location, which is fair enough right? Thus we have the invention of artificial reverb, which is basically someone trying to synthesize the space of a room without actually having to record in it. One of the earliest forms of this technology was the EMT 140 plate reverb. Developed by Universal Audio’s Bill Putnam, the EMT 140 comprises of two metal plates in parallel creating a tunnel, which the audio is then played through one end and
recorded by a pickup at the other end. You could control the length of the reverb by pushing or pulling the plates further or closer together, mental!
Considering that in order to have actual plate reverb in your rig you need a giant plate reverb contraption that wouldn’t even fit in your car let alone on your pedal board. Therefore traditional plate reverb has almost exclusively been used on recordings since the late 1940s. Known for its bright sound and smooth decay, plate reverb has been heard on countless records over the years and is one of the cornerstones of artificial reverb.
Another variant of artificial reverb, spring reverb uses (you guessed it) a spring with a driver at one end and a pickup at the other to capture the vibrations created by the audio passing through it. The addition of multiple springs added another dimension to the reverb, as the vibrations from each spring would also effect the other adjacent springs separately to the drivers and audio passing through them, giving the reverb more depth and individual personality. The beauty of spring reverb was that it could be produced in ever shrinking packages, meaning they could be installed into guitar amplifiers from as early as the 1960s, which was a godsend for guitarists when you consider the size of the first “portable” spring reverbs that came with Hammond organs back in the late 1930s.
Known for its signature drippy sound and rackety decay, spring reverb is probably the most commonly used reverb amongst guitarists, arguably for its tone, but probably due to the fact that pretty much every amp ever made comes with spring reverb in it. It’s also because it’s a reverb that works so well with the guitar in general. The best reference for
what spring reverb sounds like is surf music, specifically Dick Dale’s Misirlou. If you’re unsure about what spring reverb sounds like, look no further than that song. It can also be seen on film soundtracks that take influence from the Spaghetti Western genre. Ennio Morricone’s work is the most famous (Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, etc) so start there.
With the birth of the digital age came massive developments in reverb. The once innovative concept of synthesizing space through plates and springs was cast aside for digital algorithms that use feedback delay circuits to create a series of echoes that can be customized to the nth degree.
Introduced in the 1970s with the EMT 250 rack unit, digital reverb became the staple reverb in every studio almost instantly due to its compact size and functionality. It allowed you to digitally recreate any space you could think of and have full control over the parameters of said space; giving the user a level of control that plate and spring reverbs can only dream about.
The crazy thing about digital reverb is that since is birth in the 70s it has developed further and further into a stratosphere we could never have imagined previously. With the invention of VSTs and high quality digital reverb pedals, the modern day musician can have access to pretty much any reverb they can think of AND have complete control over it. You can even get reverbs that are recreations of specific reverbs of famous rooms E.g. the Sistine Chapel! Now you try and tell me you don’t want to play the Eruption solo with some sweet Sistine Chapel verb on there, go on I’ll wait… yeah I didn’t think so.
I know that usually I do my picks one by one as I break down each subsection of the effect I’m talking about, but reverb is a bit of a tricky one when it comes to buying one type reverb pedals for two reasons; 1. More often than not reverb pedals these days are almost always digital and tend to have multiple types of reverb on them, and 2. If they are just one type of reverb they’re usually out of the price range for beginners, especially if you find one that isn’t digital, which it probably will be. So I’ve decided to stick to my budget friendly guns and give you some reverb pedal options that can allow you to try out loads of cool types of reverbs, without having to break the bank. You’re welcome.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Mini (£72)
I’m going to start with the simplest and most affordable pedal on my list for the straight shooting players out there. The Hall of Fame mini is an immensely compact version of TC’s Hall of Fame reverb, without any of the hassle or floor
space. Its one knob fits all design suits players who are looking to add reverb to their tone in a similar way they would add reverb from an amp. However, the addition of TC’s signature Tone Print app allows users to pick and choose the reverb in their pedal by selecting it from the app and them beaming it straight into the pedal from their phone! You can’t get more futuristic than that in the guitar world, and for £72 it’s my budget reverb pick every day of the week.
Boss RV-6 (£116)
There was always going to be a Boss pedal in this list. They were the first to do it and continue to compete and dominate the affordable pedal market, and the RV-6 is no exception. Coming with eight different types of reverb, the RV-6 provides both classic and modern styles of digital reverb in an easy to use compact format. Its also got expression out which can be set to control varying parameters of the reverb if you are looking for more control. For the player who
wants classic reverb sounds and the option of slightly more control on the fly, the RV-6 is for you.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 (£125)
The big brother of the HOF mini, the Hall of Fame 2 reverb provides all the great sounds of the HOF mini with far more control. It comes with eight types of reverb, and then three blank slots that allow you to save different reverbs from the Tone Print app, or ones you have designed yourself! Each reverb can be used subtly, or completely wash out your tone, the choice is yours. For the player who wants endless control at his fingertips but the option of ignoring it completely, the Hall of Fame 2 is the perfect pedal for you.
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
Reel Talk: a Brief History of Delay
Since its introduction to the commercial market in the early 1950’s delay has been a staple effect in studio recordings and live shows across almost all genres. Its ability to be manipulated to create space or rhythmical motifs has captivated guitarists and musicians alike across the years, and helped spawn some of our favourite music today. So lets get into it.
It began with tape delay, which was born out of an interest in using technology to recreate natural phenomenon (reverb, echo, etc) and uses reel-to-reel recording to achieve its sound. Put simply, reel-to-reel means you can record yourself playing and then control how and when the recorded version of yourself playing is repeated. It uses tape heads to control the recording (write head) and then a number of other tape heads to control the repeats (playback heads). Only problem with tape was that the machines were heavy, expensive, temperamental, and required regular maintenance.
Bring on solid-state analogue delay. A mainstream user- friendly alternative to tape delay brought out in the 1970’s, analogue uses bucket brigade chips to capture and repeat the delay rather than tape and tape heads. It uses a discrete- time analogue delay line, in which the capacitors in the chip store the analogue information, and pass it along the line one step at a time at a clock cycle. The name is a reference to the term bucket brigade, which refers to people passing a bucket of water in a line. However, as big a revolution as analogue delay was, it’s time in the spotlight was short lived.
With the availability of inexpensive digital signal processing electronics in the late 1970’s it wasn’t long before digital delay started to come through and take over the delay market. Originally introduced as expensive rack units, digital delay worked by sampling the input signal and then using the sample to create very clean delays, and allowed the user to have more control of the parameters of the delay itself. It went on to dominate the delay market for years before the resurgence of analogue and tape in the early 1990’s.
Its safe to say that discussing delay is no joke. You can spend hours learning about every facet of the three types of delays, and even longer working out which delay is right for you because there have been so many incarnations that its hard to know where to begin and what they can offer to your sound. What I’m going to try and do is give you a simplified version of each, the headlines if you will, and then bang over a couple of my personal recommendations for starter delays to get you going. Sound cool? Cool.
I’m going to do these in the order that I think are most user friendly for beginners, and you cant really get easier than digital delay.
The easiest way to imagine what digital delay sounds like is to think of The Edge’s guitar sound. He used a TC Electronic 2290 rack unit delay, one of the most famous digital delays ever made and the best reference for your classic digital delay. Think clean, bright, and perfect delay sounds, which you can shape and sculpt to your hearts content. Due to the
lack of analogue hardware circuitry, digital delays are capable of creating longer, more durable repeats that don’t degrade or oscillate, which is why it’s best suited for creating these rhythmical riffs seen in songs like Sweet Disposition, Where the Streets Have No Name, and Heartbreak Warfare. If you want clean and pristine, then digital is what you need.
Dan’s Pick: Boss DD3 (£99)
The DD3 was first introduced in 1985, and not much has changed about it since then. Its simple, easy to use interface and classic sound has kept guitar players happy for generations with its smooth repeats and tone, capable of creating anything from tight slap back to chaotic and endless tremolo picking. It’s the one stop shop for entry delays and you cant really get more for less anywhere else. Alternatively, if you are looking for slightly more control over your delay, look into the DD7. The most recent model in the DD series, the DD7 has an expression out which you can attach an external tap tempo footswitch to, allowing you more control over your delays for not much more money!
Moving into the more complex delays, analogue delay provides a grainier sounding repeat with more expressive feedback, and is often paired with modulation to complete its classic sound. Analogue is best for musicians who are looking for a less control over traditional delay parameters, in exchange for a wilder side to the feedback of their delays. Analogue is famous for its feedback sound, the can make you sound like you’re lost in space or in the climax scene of a 1960’s horror film. If you want crazy feedback and little control over it, go analogue.
Dan’s Pick: EHX Memory Toy (£84)
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about hunting for great deals on pedals for beginners, is that sometimes you find a pedal that’s just a great pedal all round for the price regardless of whether you’re a beginner or not! And that’s exactly what I’ve found with the Memory Toy. A compact affordable version of the iconic Memory Man, the Memory Toy delivers classic analogue tone and lush modulation in a compact and affordable package. Bar the Boss DM2, you can’t get more classic analogue than the Memory Man, and at £84 you really cant go wrong.
Arguably the hardest of the delays to become familiar with, mainly because most people don’t have access to a real one, tape delay is known for being the most “human” sounding delay of the three, and is often the most coveted due to its high price tag and rarity. Tape is a very versatile delay, being used initially to create dripping slap back tones in the early rockabilly days, before it was being used to create pseudo space age sounds by bands in the mid 1960’s, and has since been used by bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and so much more. Tape is known for is bright humanizing tone, and deep low end capable of creating sounds similar to the noises you’d expect to hear when the alien ships land and they make first contact. You want space age? Go tape.
Dan’s Pick: Mooer Reecho (£54)
Now anyone who knows anything about tape delay knows that usually if you want to buy one you’ve got two options; 1. Pay anywhere from £180-£450 pounds for a high quality digital recreation of a tape delay, or 2. Pay anywhere from £1000-£5000 pounds for an actual tape echo that requires an immense amount of care and maintenance. So I think it’s safe to say that usually, buying tape delay as a beginner is nothing more than a pipedream, until now. Introducing the Mooer Reecho, which in my opinion is THE best delay at is price point by a country mile. Aside from the fact it’s got a really convincing tape sound, it also has two different types of tape sounds AND an analogue one. It comes in a tiny
package, which is ideal for those people who are very conscious about their pedal board real estate, and if that wasn’t enough its only £54! I’m not saying it’s the best tape delay sound I’ve ever heard, but it is the most convincing sounding tape delay I’ve heard out of any of the tape emulators. It even beats tape delays that come in at higher price points! I can honestly say that in all my years of pedal hunting I have not found a pedal that offers this kind of quality at such a low price point. There is literally no downside to buying this pedal, period.
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
Guitar Lessons Kilburn NW6 – Start with our step-by-step beginner lessons
Learn the Guitar in Kilburn London NW6. London Guitar Academy are very patient and friendly and the lessons will progress at your own pace. Our lessons will be fun and relaxed as well as structured and informative. Guitar Lessons Kilburn for YOU!
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Guitar Lessons Kilburn teach all styles of acoustic guitar including fingerstyle and plectrum techniques! We have been teaching guitar in Kilburn for 25 years and all our excellent highly educated, experienced tutors can easily show you how to form a game plan for becoming a better guitarist on your musical journey. Our goal is to provide a lesson program that fully supports you along the way and makes you the best possible guitarist you can be. Here at Guitar Lessons Kilburn are committed to excellence in music training and welcome anyone ages five and up from beginning to advanced levels. We recognise that every student’s interests are unique, and we strive to provide a program based upon their individual needs. In our Kilburn Guitar Lessons all of the basics are covered for both acoustic and electric guitars.
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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!
Improvising: Ways to break out of the box!
Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of improvising at my gigs. This has been an amazing opportunity to release my creative side and I’ve definitely milked every chance for an over-indulged solo! However, I have found recently that having so much creative freedom can actually result in constraining it. You can end up stuck in the same phrases, getting comfortable with your ‘go to’ licks and inevitably getting tired of your own solos. So I tasked myself with figuring out how to break out of this solo rut, and here is what I found…
Breaking out of the box
As a guitarist that grew up listening to a lot of metal and studying the likes of Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai and crew at university, I have spent a lot of time learning scales and ridiculously fast licks, hammering in pentatonic’s to a metronome and endlessly chugging through modes. I found this incredibly useful over time and a great way to learn the fretboard, but it is easy to get stuck in these shapes and start to rely on them.
By breaking out of the box, I mean leaving the safety of scale positions and trying to play more fluidly, thinking carefully about note choice and melody. Try thinking of your solo lines as a vocal melody, something that tells a story and leads the song, as opposed to a sequence of licks and scales. You want your solo to be memorable and singable, the best solos are the ones that stick in your mind. As you practice this and get used to composing melodies as you play, then try adding some of your impressive scale shredding in-between your melodic ideas. This works really well for leading in more melodic phrases and for building intensity, which can be the cherry on top.
In my opinion, rhythm is as important as the notes you choose, if not more so. This is the way we latch our playing to the song, create groove and structure our solo. So by really variating the rhythms we choose throughout our solo, we can start to create more interesting lines. There are a few useful and fun ways I’ve been using to do this!
Practicing over lots of different tempos has been a great way to prepare for all different kinds of solo scenarios. There’s nothing worse than soloing over a beat that is too fast for your licks and not being able to keep up, or too slow and being unable to lock into it. By consistently playing at varied tempos you will start to understand how to really work with different grooves and what kind of lines are suitable at different speeds. This will make your playing much more consistent.
Practicing over drum beats is a really effective way of tightening up your playing and learning how to communicate with other musicians. Really focus on what the drummer is doing, listen to his hi-hat pattern and where he is placing his kick and snare. By locking in with his pattern and using accents to highlight the beat, the whole feel of the song will benefit. If you don’t know any drummers, you can do this with any of the many jam along backing tracks on the internet.
Focus your practice!
I know, it sounds obvious… but REALLY focus your practice. The best way to improve your playing is to constantly analyse what your doing and identify how you can make it better. Try starting your practice by writing down exactly what it is that you want to work on in that session. If you’re the kind of person who likes to be super organised, set yourself a time limit for each topic, the added deadline will help you make the most of the time. However, don’t forget to give yourself a break too! I am guilty myself of picking up my guitar and losing hours at a time, but taking a break rests your hands and more importantly your ears. It will help you progress more quickly if you’re not fatigued while you’re playing.
Another technique I’ve found invaluable is recording myself while I play. Listening back to yourself gives you extra perspective on how your playing is sounding and an impression of what people will be hearing when you’re shredding out. This way you can check your tone, identify bits you want to try again and hear everything you missed while you were in the moment. You don’t need to have a recording setup to do this either, using your phone or laptop webcam can work just as well.
Try not to emulate other people too much
Every guitarist has their favourite artists. The ones who we will spend hours and hours trying to sound like by playing their solos and learning their riffs. But this in itself can make our own soloing sound familiar and sometimes, even cliché! Sometimes songs are begging for a bluesy B.B King inspired solo or some pentatonic whaling from the likes of Slash, but I think its important to put your own stamp on it. These guys are iconic because they all found their own individual style of playing and you should too. Trust your instincts more, find and write your own licks and ideas in a style that suits your playing. Not only will this make your playing sound unique, it will give you a way of creating your own melodies instead of being stuck around other peoples.
Confidence is key…
and I think this is the crux of it. It’s easy to get comfortable with what you know. Using tried and tested patterns and familiar melodies is a good way to feel safe that you are going to nail the solo. But the main thing I have found, is that practicing all of the things above has given me the confidence to push the boundaries, which has made my playing a lot more intentional, creative and thoughtful. I found this to be a common phase that a lot of guitarists go through and can be a hard one to break out of, but with focused practice and some confidence the results can be rewarding!
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
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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.