Acoustic Techniques: How to Rock Unplugged
Ah the acoustic guitar: a campfires best friend. Servant to the troubadour, and sufferer of the Wonderwall covers. Its safe to say that acoustic guitar certainly has a lot of negative press going for it. Well not necessarily negative, just not cool. The electric guitar has chunky riffs, picks slides, and wailing solos, you name it, and it’s got it.
That doesn’t mean I’m saying that the electric guitar is the better of the two; I’m just saying that if you were organizing a house party and you needed someone to supply all the booze, I know which one I’d be asking.
But maybe that’s just because the techniques and traits of the electric guitar are much more brash and bold than its unplugged counterpart, and you need a more refined taste to appreciate what the acoustic offers you. Tequila will definitely get you drunk more quickly than red wine, but that doesn’t mean its better right?
Yeah that is right so don’t question it. Anyway enough with the waffling, here’s some acoustic techniques to help you make your Arcala swoon at your next scout meet.
Ok so before you all start making hilarious jokes about how you “never thought to strum a guitar before Dan thanks” I’m going to be talking specifically about the slight sonic differences between a few strumming styles. Because you can manipulate the sound of an acoustic less than an electric you have to think more precisely about how you approach playing it. For example, playing with the nail of your finger versus playing with your thumb.
At first glance you wouldn’t assume there would be a difference, but the percussive nature of your nail brings out a brighter tone than the skin of your thumb. Try switching between the two during a song to help with dynamics. Maybe the brighter timbre of your nail will help lift a chorus up a bit? (It will).
So it wouldn’t be acoustic guitar without finger picking would it? Everyone from Bob Dylan all the way to the big Bieber have had a good ole’ crack at it. Biggest faux pas people make with this is not thinking enough about the patterns they play. The reason finger picking is amazing is because you can shift the dynamics of a song simply by switching the finger picking pattern you’re playing. Don’t just sit there and play The Boxer’s pattern over every song, be better than that. You want inspiration? James Taylor, Nick Drake. If you need more inspiration than that then you’ve not listened well enough.
The Power of Open Strings
So this one sounds more complicated than it is. In short, acoustic guitars can either sound beautiful, or really boring and flat. Most of that is down to technique, and specifically the use of open strings surrounding the chords you’re playing. No one wants to hear just the three notes in a G chord, they want all the over tones and open strings that give the acoustic guitar so much life. Try making sure your when you’re playing your chords that you’re note accidentally muting any open strings that help give the acoustic guitar life when being played solo. Equally however, do make sure you mute notes that don’t belong in the chord. There’s something about a duff note being played in and amongst other notes on a solo acoustic guitar that’s just a little bit more pathetic than usual. So don’t do it.
5 Pedals or Less: How to Sound Like Dave Gilmour
Back at it again, the hunt for tone never ends. Speaking from personal experience, furthering my understanding of tone has simultaneously been one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences of my life. On the one hand, finally cracking one of my favourite guitar player’s sounds and learning all of their secrets is an exhilarating feeling. But staying up till 3am trying to work out which exact chorus pedal SRV used on David Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance’ only to find out its an extremely rare rack unit that would cost me more money than I’ve ever earned to acquire, blows.
But what can you do? Its not like finding that out has put me off the idea of maybe one day taking out some insane loan to buy one so I can play that solo through it once and go “Well, that wasn’t worth it” so there’s no point getting upset about it. I love tone; you love tone, that’s why we’re here. Forever sharing and reading about our collective theories on how we can get one-step closer to kind of sounding like our heroes, it’s what gets me out of bed on a morning.
The Beginner’s Guide to David Gilmour: Tone, Gear, Effects – Guitar
Sound Like Dave Gilmour
Today, we’re going to be looking at a man who needs no introduction: Dave Gilmour.
What? I said he needed no introduction. If you really need to learn about who he is and what he has contributed to music, then climb out from under that giant rock you’ve been living under and go buy Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and listen to them and realize what you’ve been missing out on your whole life. If that still doesn’t give you enough info about his guitar playing, then go watch the live at Pompeii concert, its on YouTube and has been for ages. I’m here to help you guys but I’m not going to spoon feed
you. Go on, go listen to those albums and come back to me, ill wait.
You’re back? Great, lets get started.
Dan’s Pick No.1: Pro-Co RAT (£79)
David Gilmour, or Dave to his friends, has had a constant development of tone over the four decades he’s been knocking around making classic album after classic album. Every aspect of his tone can change on different albums, even on different tracks of the same album! And none of those aspects are trickier than his drive sound. The average user would assume that you’d buy a fuzz, and that’s fair enough. He his a well-known fuzz user, especially the Big Muff range by EHX. However, this series is supposed to help you sound like him in fewer than five pedals, and I don’t think there is any single fuzz that would cover all of his drive sounds, and we don’t want to waste our options on multiple fuzzes. However, there is a big argument for the Pro-co RAT being the ideal drive for Dave’s sound. You gun this pedal, you get creamy sweet fuzz like leads and sustain, very Comfortably Numb, very Echoes. But then, if you dial it back,
you can get some classic overdrive sounds. Which is often overlooked when trying to sound like Dave. Think about Shine On You Crazy Diamond, that’s not a big drive sound, it’s a classic blues sound that has some bite when you dig in, and fuzz can’t really do that very well. I’m not saying this drive will suit everyone, it polarizes users because it takes some learning to get it sounding nice, and there’s argument that a fuzz (specifically the new EHX triangle mini range) would get you closer to Dave’s classic sound quicker and easier. But personally I think over time you’d get more enjoyment out of the RAT. Its also a great rock pedal in general, so bonus!
Dan’s Pick No.2: MXR Univibe (£130)
Again, modulation was a tricky one to decide on. No one loves modulation pedals more than me, but if you’ve only got five pedals then you kind of have to condense your modulation down into one pedal. Especially considering we’ve not looked at delays, or any of the other space like sound scape options that you need for Dave’s sound. I’ve chosen the Univibe for one reason, and I’ve said this before, I don’t really know what it is. Is it a phaser? Is it chorus? We’ll never know. But Dave used both of those kinds of pedals and
this univibe does a really great job of giving you both sides of the coin, and then a free third side of this weird coin I’ve just made up that does univibe.
Also, lets be honest, everyone who’s trying to sound like Dave is going to want to play the Shine On You Crazy Diamond riff a hundred times over. And this pedal seems to get me the closest whilst still offering other tones for different sides of Dave’s playing. It’s also the best type of modulation pedal for psychedelic soloing, because it adds guitar tone without getting in the way. There are other options for this pedal I’ll admit that, but personally I think you’d be happier with this.
Dan’s Pick No.3/4: TC Electronic Flashback 2 (£98)/ EHX Memory Toy (£84)
When deciding on Dave’s delay, or Davelay as no one calls it. We had to consider a couple of things. You need a delay that offers you classic analogue sounds and can also do cool feedback stuff, but you also need some lush sounding delays with chorus and a digital edge. Sadly, there isn’t a pedal like that in existence to my knowledge. And if there is, neither
you nor I could afford it. However, for a total of £174, which we can all agree is pretty cheap in the modern delay market, you can buy two delays that not only fill those desired needs, but also offer a lot more. With the Memory Toy, it’s just a simple version of the classic memory man at a great price, and will do all the cool feedback stuff you’d ever need. But throw in the Flashback two, and suddenly you’ve got anywhere from super modern digital delay, to classic 2290 chorus-y delay, and even some old school tape sounding ones too! Also stacking delays is a classic Gilmour move, or Gilmove (I’ll stop with these puns now) and there genuinely isn’t a better way to kill three hours than by stacking two different delays and seeing what happens. If you wanna save money here, just get the Flashback. It won’t do analogue sounds as well but it offers more options and functionality, especially with the tone print functions. But if you’re a legend you’ll get both.
Dan’s Pick No.5: Ernie Ball Vp-Jr Volume Pedal (£88)
Volume pedals are a tricky one to sell to someone if they’ve never owned one before. They fall into the category of the not fun but necessary pedals, like buying a power supply. Its essential to your pedal-board, but no one is thrilled when it arrives in the post. Thing is, to create classic Floyd-esque soundscapes, you’re going to need a volume pedal. There’s gonna be some people out there who will say “Hey man, just use your volume pot for swells its exactly the same” and it isn’t. It’s harder, and restricting. Using a volume pedal will not only give your better swells and more control, it also frees up your hands so you can do more as you’re swelling. The Ernie Ball volume pedal series is basically the industry standard these days; you see them on basically every board on every rig rundown, so why go against the grain. I know that’s not a very Pink Floyd approach but hey, welcome to the machine. If you want to improve the quality of your tone you can buy the one up from this one that includes a 250k pot, which improves your signal passing through it, somehow. But for all you bedroom warriors I doubt you’ll need to worry about that.
By Dan Tredgold
Tips to Learn Songs Faster On Guitar
So you’ve been practicing and working hard on your instrument. The hours you’ve invested into mastering your craft are starting to pay off and you’ve decide to take the plunge and learn that song you’ve always dreamt of being able to play. However, you might find that despite your new found skills, you still run in to difficulties. There might be a specific section that trips you up, the structure might be confusing and you’re running out of patience. Don’t dismay though, we’ve all been there and sometimes all you need to do is take a different approach. In this article we’re going to explore some techniques to help you overcome these obstacles and hopefully give you the breakthrough that you need!
I know this might seem obvious, but listening to the song you’re trying to master is key to success. I don’t mean putting it on while doing the dishes or fighting through the crowds whilst commuting, I’m talking about active listening. Active listening is when you are solely focused on what is happening in the song. Before you even sit down at your instrument, find somewhere quiet where you can listen to the music without any external distractions and can really absorb the music. Listen to all the melodies, not just on the instrument that you play but within all aspects of the song. Hear how the instruments communicate with each other, familiarise yourself with the groove, listen to the vocals and lead lines carefully, taking note of how they change from section to section. The idea is to memorise all aspects of the song until you know what happens in each part without having to listen to the actual song. Once you are confident that you know the song like the back of your hand, then it is time to sit with your instrument and start learning. Doing this is going to save a lot of time having to go back and check if you are playing certain parts right because you know exactly what its supposed to sound like. You will be able to use your musical ear more accurately and be familiar with the structure and melodies, thus playing with more confidence.
Break It Down
With some exceptions, most songs are built up of repeating sections or progressions that make up the structure of the music. It might be difficult to hear when listening to the song as a whole, but due to the mathematical nature of how music is created, certain patterns start to emerge that you can use to break down the song and can change your perspective on how difficult a piece is to learn. Let’s take the classic ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis and dissect the structure.
(Oasis – Wonderwall)
At first glance this might look like a lot of sections to learn and follow, but you might just find that some of these sections are exact repeats of previous ones. For example, all the Verses are made up of the same chords, same goes with the Chorus and the Bridge. You’ll also find that the Intro uses the same chords as the Verses and the Outro uses the same chords as the Chorus. So what we can do is identify different progressions in the song and assign them a letter. If we use A for the progression used in the Intro and Verses, B for the progression used in the Bridge and C for the progression in the Chorus and Outro then the structure of the song starts to look a little bit like this.
A – Intro
A – Verse 1
A – Verse 2
B – Bridge
C – Chorus
A – Verse 3
B – Bridge
C – Chorus
C – Outro
Here we can see that this song is actually only made up of three differing sections, all we have to do is arrange them in the right order. By looking at songs in this way it breaks them down into a more manageable structure and definitely makes things look less daunting. So try and find these patterns and see how they arrange themselves in the songs you want to learn. Learn each section independently then work on stitching them together in the right order. This will create you a basic framework from which to work from and help you on your way to playing the song through from start to finish. Once you have a firm grasp of the different sections, then you can go back and start adding in extra details like chord inversions or extensions that will bring the song to life.
Isolate The Difficult Parts
In my experience, I have found that there is often one section in a song that you find more difficult than the rest. It can be incredibly frustrating every time you get to that bit and your playing falls apart, knocking your confidence for the rest of the song. In these scenarios, I find it best to isolate the difficult sections and practice it in detail. Slow down the tempo and repeat the difficult part until you can play it accurately and confidently at a slower pace. Once you are nailing it every time, slowly increase the tempo until it flows naturally at the original tempo. If you’re feeling dedicated, increase the tempo further than the original song until you can play it faster, then when you come to putting it back into context at the original tempo, you will be able to play the section with more confidence!
I find myself using this point a lot when writing about music in general, but genuinely this is crucial to progressing as a musician. Be patient with yourself and don’t be disheartened if you can’t play things perfectly first time. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ resonates for a reason, it takes time and repetition to master an instrument. So if you find yourself getting annoyed or disheartened when learning songs, take a step back, have a break or work on something else. Getting annoyed at yourself is totally counter-productive and will only hinder your progress.
I hope these tips help you overcome any obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your musical goals. It’s human nature to try and push yourself hard when learning anything, but pushing yourself too hard can be detrimental to your confidence and your playing. Don’t run before you can walk, break things down into manageable sections and practice in detail. Taking your time to learn things properly is going to save you from beating yourself up if you can’t play it quite right just yet!
Practice tips for guitar
Practise Practise Practise! That’s the advice given to us by countless teachers, parents and other musicians to reach our goals, and it’s correct. But it’s often difficult to know how to divide our time efficiently when we practise and what we need to do to improve and make the most of our time. So I hope this article helps anyone out there that needs some guidance on effective techniques and time management.
Practise tips for the burgeoning Musician
How and what we practise is much more important than the amount of time we dedicate to it. Now I’m not saying that playing for hours and hours a day is meaningless, if you can do it and be efficient with your time then you will obviously see more rapid improvement in your playing, but spending hours a day just noodling will not be as efficient as spending one hour a day onquality practice.
Simple and Powerful Guitar Practice Tips
Whenever possible learn only what is useful to you and has relevance to you now or in the foreseeable future. Can you see yourself using this information in a months time and it will benefit your playing now? If the answer is yes then practise it, if the answer is no, then find a technique, scale, chord or whatever that will be useful to you now and learn that. The more relevant the information is the more your brain will remember it. Know what you are playing and why you want to play it.
How long should I practise for? Great question! The answer is whatever you’re comfortable with. For some this will be hours, for others it’ll be thirty minutes. Dedicating approximately the same amount of time to sit down with your guitar everyday will see you reap the rewards. So forty minutes six days a week is better than four hours on a Monday followed by five days off! Doing the latter will result in your brain forgetting what you did on the Monday and you having to relearn that material again.
Tips to Boost Your Practice Session
Variation is key as it’ll stop boredom creeping in by playing the same thing everyday. Change your routine to keep things fresh. If you studied major seven chords on Monday, why not look at minor seven chords on the Tuesday. You played Blues licks on the Wednesday, try out some Country licks on the Thursday. Remember, find out what works best for you and stick to it and try and dedicate the same amount of time each day to specific areas of your playing.
There’s no hard and fast rules! As long as you’re learning material that you’ll use, is relevant to you and your growth as a guitarist and you’re consistent, then you’re doing the right thing.
Learning is a treasure that will follow it’s owner everywhere – ancient Chinese proverb
When it comes to picking on the guitar, there are a wide variety of techniques at our disposal to achieve the effect we’re looking for. Certain picking techniques suit specific genres and others can be applied pretty much across the board. It can be easy to get caught up learning the actual notes and phrases that we forget how crucial our picking is to playing them. Discovering new picking techniques can really open new doors in terms of what you are capable of playing and will improve the co-ordination between your picking and fret hand. So read on to find out about some of these techniques, how to use them and where you can expect to find them!
Alternate picking is probably the most commonly used of all the techniques, so a good place to start if you’re finding out for the first time. As the name suggests, it requires using the pick to strike the string in an ‘up, down, up, down’ fashion. When you get proficient at alternate picking it can be used to achieve great speed and accuracy. It lends itself to pretty much every style of playing due to its simple and effective nature, but gets notoriety from its ability to produce lightening fast scale runs and shredding solos in metal and rock genres. It’s bread and butter for any budding shred head.
If you know who Jason Becker is, then you will know what sweep picking is. If you don’t, go listen to ‘Altitudes’ and hear it in all its glory. To sweep pick is to strike the strings in a raking motion, playing each one in a fluid movement, like a strum but slightly slower and more controlled. This is usually accompanied by an arpeggio played on the fret hand outlining a chord shape, but releasing each note as it is played resulting in the notes sounding individually and yes… it is as difficult as it sounds. Sweep picking is widely recognised as an advanced technique and is usually mastered by those willing to sit in front of a metronome for hours on end, but once perfected it can sound incredibly impressive and is definitely worth the patience.
Learning how to finger-pick is a must for all guitarists. You simply can’t achieve the effect of playing multiple notes across different registers as easily with a plectrum. Learning to use all your fingers independently to pick the strings can take a while to master as it requires a lot of accuracy and dexterity, but is essential to playing certain styles of music, especially if you’re a fan of folk or country. Many people associate finger-picking with acoustic guitar but it can be highly effective on the electric too. Many famous Jazz guitarists use finger-picking as it works well for vamping chords and being able to separate tones accurately, which would ultimately be more difficult with a plectrum alone.
Hybrid picking is the combination of using a plectrum and the remaining three fingers on your picking hand at the same time. Again, another advanced technique, but when used effectively allows you to play patterns not possible with the pick alone. The general idea is to use the plectrum to play lines within the middle strings while the remaining three fingers can pick notes on the strings above, allowing you to play notes on different strings in quick succession. This is a really popular technique in country and blues styles, think of it as the benefits of finger-picking with the added clout of the pick.
Exactly what it says on the tin. Using exclusively downward strokes in your picking pattern. The downward motion really adds some beef to the resonance of the string and can add a driving momentum to your riffs. Rock and roll features a lot of this technique as it creates a more aggressive sound and often requires more attitude than accuracy. This technique can be made
even more effective when combined with some of the other techniques mentioned in this article as it creates a contrast in the timbre of the guitar.
The word tremolo is one to be familiar with in the guitar world, it pops up in all sorts of places: effects pedals, amps, guitar hardware and of course… picking. In its literal terms, it is defined as a shaking or vibrating sound achieved from repeating the same note or two notes in rapid succession. At its core, it’s a development of alternate picking, just using it on the same string at even but incredibly fast intervals. The result is a tremulous flurry of notes rolling one after the other which can give a really cool effect. Although it is one of the more obscure and less frequently used techniques, you can find it in a surprising amount of genres, from Rock and Metal to Country, Flamenco and even Banjo playing.
Muted Picking (a.k.a Palm Muting)
If you’ve been playing guitar for a little while now you will have more than likely come across palm muting. Even if you’re a beginner you will have definitely heard it somewhere. A well used technique in any guitarists arsenal, palm muting is a techniques that produces a very different sound from the guitar. It is achieved by resting the underside of the picking hand on the strings, thus dampening the resonance of the strings when you pick them. Rest on them too much and you will completely choke the notes, too little and you will probably get a nasty resonance with your notes, but get it just right and you can produce crunchy power chords and funky lead lines. The dampening of the string gives the notes a short sharp quality, which when combined with normally picked notes can add a whole new dimension to your playing and gives you more options when creating lines. Again, this is another cross genre technique and features heavily in Pop Rock, Punk to Funk and Jazz.
The real beauty with these picking techniques comes when you combine them into your playing and use them together. Each technique can create different moods and tones from the guitar so using them carefully can make your playing sound more varied and interesting. So have a practice through each technique and find the ones you really like and could see yourself using regularly. Listen to examples and start including them in your own playing. Picking is paramount to becoming an awesome guitarist. I was once told by an old tutor “a guitarist is only as good as his picking. If your picking sucks, your playing sucks” and I’m inclined to agree.
5 Pedals or Less: How to sound like Sonic Youth
Its funny what being branded a loser in high school has done for some of the most iconic Alt music in the game today, and the same can be said for pretty music all awkwardly cool music in existence too.
You don’t belong, you form a band because you think ‘hey they already hate me anyway so what’s the worst that can happen?’ and then you go on to write music that connects with every other person who felt like they didn’t belong too and become a superstar.
Now I don’t know for sure that the guys in Sonic Youth were branded losers in high school. Nor do I know basically anything about them other than their music. But hey, sometimes you just get a feeling.
What I do know is how to use pedals to sound like them. And fortunately that’s all I’m getting paid to do so I’m just gonna shut up and get on with it.
Before I get into pedals though, I need to mention some pre pedal gear you’ll need to do this right:
- Some kind of Fender amp. Ideally a Princeton, but anything with that classic jangle sound will do.
- A guitar with fender voiced Humbuckers, and if you can make it something Alt-y like a Jazzmaster so you look like a kool dude
Pedal 1: Boss CH-1 Super Chorus (£70)
Starting from the cleans and working up here. Sonic Youth like nearly every Alt band ever really liked using chorus, and why not? It sounds dope and when used properly doesn’t have to be a cheesy 80’s vibe (although I love that vibe so don’t you dare say bad word about it so help me god).
Thing is, in order to get the right chorus sound you need it to be on the budget side of the price point scale, but with enough sculpt-ability to get the right sound. Boom. CH-1. I’ve said it before I don’t wanna say it again, just buy it. Don’t be stupid.
Pedal 2: BOSS 59’ Bassman Pedal (£79-£114)
Ok, so couple things you need to consider when looking at the Sonic Youth drive sound. They tended to crank old amps to get a natural drive sound, then have another guitar with some kind of fuzz on it to get this marriage of old and new style gain. I don’t recommend cranking your fender amp up for gain, because like them, you’ll go deaf. What you can do however is buy pedals that recreate amp style gain like the BOSS 59’.
I chose this one purely because it’s the only one I’ve owned in this style of pedal and it works great. They’re quite hard to buy new these days but there are tons on Ebay. I know that’s a pain for some people but its not that hard to pick one up and all the other pedals coming out that do this type of thing either suck or cost £200 so you do the math.
Pedal 3: EHX Op-Amp Muff (£75)
Finishing off the drive section with, of course, a fuzz. Sonic Youth would sound a whole lot less angst-y without some good ole fuzz. Virtually every Alt band of note used the Op- Amp big muff in the 90’s (Smashing Pumpkins being the most noted) because of its stupidly high gain wall of fuzz sound. This reissue does a near perfect job and its small and £75. Sometimes it’s best to know a good thing when you see it and not mess with it.
Pedal 4: Way Huge Echo-Puss (£140)
Nearly there now. The flip side of Sonic Youth’s massive guitar sounds is their more delicate, almost ambient instrumentals that are scattered across their discography. So in order to do that you’ll need a delay, and ideally an analogue one.
I feel like the Echo-Puss always gets overlooked in the conversation of best analogue delays. To say that it’s a semi clone of the Memory man and the deluxe reissue by EHX costs £190 to its £140 (and sounds better IMO) it baffles me so few know or use it. But anyway I’m getting off the point, it’s a great sounding delay, the modulation on it is peng (trendy kid words) and it’ll do anything from lush delays, to ambient delays, to fuzzy distorted soundscapes. You really can’t go wrong with this one.
Amplifiers: What do all the controls do?
Amplifiers. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a variety of whizzes and bangs to play with on your quest for the perfect tone, others are fairly straight forward and opt to include a limited amount of features, instead relying on the tone from the speakers and electronics. So for beginner guitarists it can often be a confusing experience and full of terminology that isn’t familiar. In this article I’m going to put some of these features into a little bit of context for you by explaining what they are, what they do and how to get the best out of them!
Master Volume or Volume
You would assume that this one would be self-explanatory, however there are some exceptions where one could run into confusion. In a nutshell, the Master Volume controls the overall loudness of the amp. It sits at the end of all the other components in your chain and raises them all together thus not affecting the components individually. Sometimes you may have a Master Volume control and two Volume controls, which usually means that your amp has two channels (the ability to switch between two sounds, for example, clean vs distortion). In this instance the Master Volume controls the output of the overall amp and the other two Volume controls adjust the loudness of the individual channels, allowing you to have one channel a different volume than the other.
Gain (a.k.a Drive)
This a good opportunity to quash a common misconception. Gain is not the same as Volume!
It actually controls how hard you are driving your amp and alters the tone of the guitar. The more gain you apply, the more distorted and dirty the sound will be. This can sound like it is making the guitar louder, which is where the misunderstanding comes from, but it’s actually just sending more of the electrical signal through your amplifier, which drives a more powerful sound through the speaker causing the sound to distort. So you can crank your gain up high but keep your amp really quiet by keeping the Master Volume low.
Equaliser or EQ (Bass/Middle/Treble)
If you have owned a stereo in your time, you may have come across Equalisers before and when it comes to guitar amps there isn’t a whole lot of difference. The most common of Equalisers on a guitar amp is called a 3-band EQ and consists of Bass/Middle/Treble (sometimes Low/Mid/High). These controls alter the frequencies that are produced from the amp across the spectrum of your sound. The bass controls how many low and deep frequencies come through, the higher you have the bass control, the more bass your sound has and vice versa. The Treble control works in the same way but adjusts the higher pitched frequencies, again the higher you have the Treble control the more high frequencies you’ll hear in your tone. And finally… the Middle control (as you’ve probably guessed by now) affects everything in between. On some bigger and more complicated amps you may even have a 5-band EQ, but this just means you have more points across the frequency spectrum to manipulate allowing you to be more detailed in your Equalisation choices. The best thing to do is experiment with the Equaliser, push it to its extremes so you can hear the differences and work back to find the tone that best suits your playing.
Not every amplifier has a presence control, so it’s function isn’t common knowledge. In simple terms, it’s an extension of the Equaliser and adds upper-mid to high frequencies to your tone. The reason for doing so is that it boosts the guitar through the mix of other instruments, in theory making your sound more present to the audience, hence the name. This can be a really useful tool if you’re lucky enough to have one on your amp and can really make the difference in having a guitar tone that stands out. If you don’t have one don’t fear, use your existing EQ to boost your mid and high frequency a little more than usual, this can produce a similar effect.
Reverb (or reverberation) is an added ambience created by the environment of where the sound was created and occurs due to lots of small reflections bouncing around said environment in fast succession. In guitar amps you will usually have one of two types of reverbs: an analog or a digital one. Analog reverbs usually have a physical spring or metal plates built into the amplifier that conduct the electrical signal sent from the guitar and react by vibrating, simulating the reverb effect. Digital reverb is an emulation of this effect through computer simulation. Both methods can create some really interesting sounds and many guitarists usually swear by one or the other. Although I think we can all agree that any kind of reverb can really improve your guitar tone.
Delay is found mainly on modern amps. It’s a digital effect that consists of a storage medium that records the signal that goes into the amp and plays it back repeatedly, creating the effect of a decaying echo. You can manipulate the speed of the repetitions using the tempo control which is often accompanied with a ‘tap’ button which allows you to set the speed of the delay to the music you’re playing. Other parameters that you are able to alter are the depth (sometimes displayed as Dry/Wet: like 1 to 10 where dry means no effect at all and wet being saturated) which alters how much of the effect is on your tone. Feedback is how long the delay lasts for and how many repetitions you can hear. You can create some really unique sounds using delays and can create some fantastic detail into your riffs.
Ultimately, I’ve always found the best way to understand how each of these components work is to sit and play with them. Experiment with different settings and listen in detail to what is happening to the sound of your guitar, learn what sounds terrible and don’t be scared to make some noise! It could be argued that the amplifier is the most important component in any guitar chain (apart from you of course) because it’s responsible for projecting the sound. So having a good understanding of how to use it is only going to make you sound even better.
Guilty Pleasures: a Brief History of Chorus
Chorus. Is there a more polarizing word in the guitar pedal world? Maybe Ring Mod, but even then that’s a heavy seventy-thirty split against it. Its warm, warble-y, and often- cheesy sound has cringed and excited players alike for decades since its flagship introduction in the 1970’s.
Love it or hate it, you cannot deny the impact its had on music over the years. It basically defined the 80’s alongside gated reverbs, backcombed hair, and those horrible electronic drums that looked like someone cut the tops off some kind of Damien Hurst inspired bin set.
But what is chorus? Why do we use it? And what about it draws as many players in as it does turn them away.
Before we can decide on that, we first must learn about its origins. Where it came from and how it came to be one of the must fundamental effects in modern music.
You can argue that the earliest form of chorus came through in the 1930’s with the Hammond organ. Hammond organs have wheels and pull knobs that can add or remove extensions to the chords being played (3rds, 4ths, 6ths, etc.). They also had the ability to detune the notes being played to give you a fuller, more frequency dominating sound, i.e. chorus! But it wasn’t until the 1970’s that chorus started showing up on the guitarist’s radar.
Roland released two amplifiers in 1975, the JC-60, and the JC-120. More commonly known these days as the Roland Jazz chorus amps, which have a huge cult following amongst the alt guitar players of this world. But originally they were marketed as keyboard amps, providing built in chorus that could relieve the weight of having that tech built into your actual keyboard alongside a shimmering clean signal, seems strange to think about that now doesn’t it!
Anyway it wasn’t long before Roland noticed the influx of guitar players who were using the JC amps and decided to bring some of that tech into the pedal world. Bring on the Boss CE-1, a clunky, heavy, steel box that provided the exact same chorus sound found in the JC-120. Sales were slow initially, due to its high retail price, but saw rapid growth once guitarists saw the potential of its stereo out function. Which allowed guitar players to run two amps at the same time creating previously unheard atmospheric sounds.
With Roland focusing their Boss division on the pursuit of more compact pedals, it wasn’t long before the CE-1 saw its successor. In 1977, Boss released the CE-2, arguably THE most famous chorus pedal in the world. The CE-2 had all the same functionality, minus the stereo outs, and the vibrato, and was used on countless records and guitar and keyboard sounds for the following decade and a half.
History of Chorus Pedals
Since its hay day, decade dominating stint in the 80’s, chorus has taken more of a backseat role in the effect world, finding purpose in more subtle pop applications on synths, or helping Metal and Alternative bands give their riffs and solos more of an edge. Still, there is no denying its contribution to music. But now we know its history, what is chorus?
Put simply, chorus is a modulation effect. Meaning that it affects the pitch and frequency of your guitar tone, rather than volume, gain, delay, or space surrounding your tone. It works by doubling your signal, then taking the double of your signal and modulating the pitch up and down at a chosen rate. This gives your guitar a fuller sound because your signal is not only doubled, but is also moving in and out of tune with itself. Don’t ask me why that makes it fuller, lets just say that there’s something about playing an instrument alongside the same thing but slightly out of tune with itself that makes stuff sound bigger. Its science, make your peace with it. What’s important is the result of this effect; modulated sonic magic. Chorus allows you to get anything
from lush 80’s pop magic, to gritty 90’s Sonic Youth/Cure era Alt-Rock and Indie, all the way to straight up weird.
At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself ‘Alright Dan, you’ve convinced me. Chorus sounds awesome and I want one of my very own right now. But I don’t know where to begin because I’m a complete gear noob!’
Well fear not gear noobs, once again I’ve compiled y’all a list of my three picks that will cater to any guitar players needs. Pro or no, steep or cheap, there’s a chorus pedal in here for you. So lets just all shut up so I can get on with this yeah?
Dan’s pick – Tone City Angel Wing (£40)
It’s actually such a shock for me that it’s taken me this long to mention a pedal by Tone City in these articles. They have an incredibly extensive range of really solid sounding pedals, most of them are super pedal-board friendly, and above all else, they’re like forty quid!
What?! That’s right, forty pounds for a great sounding chorus pedal. Your entry into lush 80’s sounding guitar magic could cost you as little as forty pounds if you so choose. It comes with a super simple three knob configuration; level, rate, and depth, and provides lush chorus sounds. Is it the best chorus I’ve ever heard? No. But it’s bloody good for forty pounds. If you’re on the fence about whether you think chorus is awesome or cheesy, and need to own one to make a final decision on that. Then the Tone City Angel Wing is for you.
Dan’s Pick – Boss Super Chorus CH-1 (£71)
It was unlikely that we were going to do a list of best choruses without having Boss pedal in there was it? So lets talk about the CH-1.
Not as well known as its predecessor the CE-2, the CH-1 first came on the scene in the 1989 as the successor to the CE series, adding EQ controls, stereo outputs, and a less criticized knob layout. Sadly, this pedal has been stood in the shadow cast by the CE-2 pretty much since its birth, despite
being used on countless records. Well guess what? Original CE-2s cost about two hundred-plus pounds; the Waza Craft CE-2s cost about two hundred-ish pounds, what does the standard CH-1 cost? £71. So you do the math.
People always say that the CE-2 is the sound of the 80’s, and in fairness it was used all the time during that decade. But for me personally I’ve never used a CE-2 and gotten that classic cheesy 80’s chorus sound that I’m looking, or managed to get that 90’s Cure/Sonic Youth chorus sound that I love either. Whereas the CH-1, it comes with ease. It’s simple, sounds awesome, and costs half the price of the coveted CE-2. Even the original analogue circuit CH-1’s cost less than any of the CE-2s. If you’re wanting classic boss chorus, classic 80’s chorus, or even just a good chorus for a decent amount of money. The Boss CH-1 is THE chorus pedal. Don’t believe the hype; believe me, a random guy on the Internet.
Dan’s Pick – Walrus Audio Julia (£179)
Thought it was wise to pick a chorus that wasn’t the CE-2 for my big money pedal, seeing as I just spent two hundred words convincing you to not believe the hype surrounding it. To clear things up, the CE-2 is a fantastic chorus, it’s got a great sound, but it’s also spoken about all the time and there are millions of articles praising it so why add to that? What I’ve chosen for you is the Walrus Audio Julia, which falls in the boutique pedal category in so many ways, all of them awesome.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when people say modern chorus sound I used to think of cheesier, more 80’s sounding chorus, until now. The Julia is what all modern choruses should be aiming to sound like. It provides warm, organic sounding choruses, lush vibratos, and anywhere in between with its unique knob layout and functionality. It kind of makes me think of what kind of soundscapes fish would hear underwater, which is fitting because its name derives from mysterious sounds heard at the depths of the ocean. Will it give you an accurate chorus sound for the
Purple Rain tone? I don’t know, probably not if I’m being honest. But then why should it. Boss pretty much have a monopoly on the classic 80’s chorus sound with their endless array of chorus models, and they were there first so why compete? What the Julia can do is broaden your sonic horizons and make you re-evaluate what chorus is, and what kind of tones you can get out of it. If you’re looking to invest big money into a chorus that is unlike its stereotypical predecessors, the Julia is everything you’ve been looking for and more.
5 Pedals or Less: How to Sound Like Jimi Hendrix
There are many things that make the musicians we idolize so special. We can be drawn in by their musicianship, their songwriting, or even something as simple as the character they bring to their music. Their music leaves a mark on us that can eventually shape how we view all music going forward. But what is it about the guitar players we idolize that helps them stand out from the rest? What separates Slash from Mayer? Gilmour from Moore? Or even guitarists in the same project such as Greenwood and O’Brien?
You could answer that question in a number of ways; influences, touch, feel, style, but a clear separation that these guitarists have from each other is tone. Any musician worth his salt can spot the difference between an Eric Clapton solo and a BB King solo, despite one being heavily influenced by the other. Their tone is what makes them, them, and no two guitar players are the same regardless of how much influence they have from each other.
Unfortunately a large part of their tone is dictated by attributes that are unique to them. I’ve seen some great renditions of Eruption in my time, but there’s something about watching Eddie himself play it that just cant be attained elsewhere, because its his voice that created that solo, that style of playing that has influenced so many. Fortunately however, an equally large part of their signature tone is created by the choice of equipment they use, which we CAN take influence from, and implement into our playing almost directly.
Today, I’m going to set out on a journey to find the tools necessary to help you recreate the sounds of some of your favourite players. I’ll be giving you my picks that I think will get you one step closer to sounding like one of the all time
greats. And to challenge myself, I’m going to see if I can do it in 5 pedals or less. Mostly to keep the costs down, but also just because anyone can sound like anyone if they have endless budget and options, and where’s the fun in that?
I’ll be kicking this run of articles off with someone who has influenced almost every guitar player since he stepped on to the scene in the mid 1960’s…
What can I say about Jimi Hendrix that hasn’t already been said? Maybe that he used to like eating peanut butter straight from the jar, no one has said that before, probably because it isn’t true and I just made it up now. The point is, Hendrix is the man. The dude just took guitar playing to a level that no one had seen before and if you say that you aren’t influenced by his playing then you’re either lying or you just don’t realize it.
I’ll say this now; sounding like Jimi Hendrix is going to take a lot more than five pedals. He had a great understanding of theory he was an incredible songwriter, and a virtuosic
player. Do not, I repeat do not, expect to plug in five pedals and expect to sound like this man because you will be sorely disappointed. However, your tone will be pretty close, and if you put your mind to it and study the craft like Hendrix did before you, then you may have a shot. So lets get down to business shall we?
Pedal Pick No.1: Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face Mini Hendrix Edition (£113)
Bit of a no brainer this one. To sound like Hendrix you’re going to need fuzz, and what better fuzz to use than a signature fuzz from the man himself? The Hendrix Fuzz Face mini is a compact, affordable version of its much less pedal board friendly older brother, providing you with sweet screaming leads and chunky Red House style riffs.
A big part of sounding like Hendrix when it comes to drive is being able to roll off your volume and get a warm clean sound, which a lot of drives struggle to do well. Fortunately, this pedal does this very well. Almost like, it was designed like that to help you sound like Hendrix?
To summarise, a lot of Fuzz’s will get you close to sounding like Hendrix, but why not give yourself a break and get one that will basically give you Hendrix’s exact tone. Job done.
Pedal No.2: Dunlop Cry Baby Wah (£75)
A lot of Hendrix’s lead sound was blasted through one of these bad boys. The filtering sweeps of the classic wah pedal can be heard on most of Hendrix’s classic solos (Crosstown Traffic, Little Wing, Voodoo Chile) and is an essential pedal when it comes to sounding like Hendrix.
Now I know a lot of people love wah, and they love to talk about how every wah is different and that’s why there are like eight million versions of wah to choose from. But if you ask me wah is wah, and I’ve never once thought about replacing the classic Cry Baby wah. It does wah as well as anyone would ever need it to in my opinion (bring on the haters), there is a Hendrix signature edition Cry Baby but that costs significantly more than this one and if you want to go full Hendrix fan boy then you’re more than welcome to. For me, this is the perfect wah, and for £75 you cant goes wrong really.
Pedal No.3: MXR Univibe/ Hendrix Univibe (£120-£130)
If I’m being honest, I don’t really know what univibe is. It kinda sounds like chorus, but also has a phaser vibe to it, but it also doesn’t really sound like either of them.
What I do know, is that it sounds awesome, and Hendrix thought so too so if were gonna sound like Hendrix we need one in our rig. I’ve provided two examples here, the standard MXR univibe, and the Hendrix univibe. They both sound great, the Hendrix one is obviously a more accurate recreation of the vibe he was using at the time, but the standard one does a really good job as well. Plus, the standard univibe is a better all round univibe in my opinion, so for anyone who wants to sound like Hendrix but also wants to do some Gilmour type licks or other vibe based riffing, I recommend that. If you’re just gonna play Hendrix, then obviously the signature one is for you.
Pedal No.4: MXR Hendrix Ocatavia (£129)
This final pedal is more of a bonus one for the die hard Hendrix fans, I whole heartedly believe that if you were to acquire the previous three pedals you’d have no trouble pulling out your favourite Hendrix sounds. But, if you do fancy going the extra mile, then the Octatvia is the place to start. Again, this pedal doesn’t really make much sense to me, I’m not 100% sure exactly what it is or what bracket of pedal style it sits in. But fuzzy octave sounds cool, and is very Hendrix. They bring out a certain style of expression in your playing that will inadvertently make you play more like Hendrix, and if you’re trying to sound like Hendrix then you definitely want something in your rig that helps you do that organically. I know we’ve had a lot of Hendrix signature pedals, and I’m not the biggest fan of pushing one brand of pedals because I believe it can make your rig limiting. However, octave leads is so quintessentially Hendrix, that you’d be foolish not get a signature one if the goal is to sound like him. Its also one of the cheaper ocatavias on the market as well, so it just makes sense doesn’t it?
By Dan Tredgold
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Live Lessons: 5 Tips for Better Tone Live
There are endless ways to enjoy being a musician, from jamming with your friends to recording your music, even something as simple as playing by yourself can bring an immense sense of satisfaction. But for most, no which way is more satisfying than getting up on stage and plugging in and playing to a room full of complete strangers. It’s what fuels the fire in our musical hearts, and why shouldn’t it? The rush of playing live is a feeling that can be hard to find elsewhere, and it is something I believe everyone should experience at least once in life.
Equally however, there is nothing worse than putting time and hard work in to a performance only to get to the day and leaving the show feeling like you didn’t play your best. Or even worse, completely bombing! Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Life can just be cruel and decide that that day was just not your day, but most of the time a bad gig can come down to something as simple as tone. Ever felt like your songs sound amazing in the rehearsal room but then feel slow live? Bad tone. Ever been at a gig and felt like your face melting solos aren’t cutting through? Bad tone. Ever played a show where the singer’s vocal is completely lost during choruses? Bad. Tone.
Bad tone is the pitfall of almost any band that doesn’t cut the mustard live, and it can be so easy to forget when you’re running round trying sort out other issues that come with playing live; like dealing with difficult promoters or trying to sort out guest list for your mum.
Well I wont idly stand by whilst fellow musicians are out there getting themselves into all kinds of musical peril. Today, I’m going to give you a five-step workout plan that’s going to get your flabby tone in shape. No more unheard
solos, no more dynamic-less songs, and no more washed out vocalists. Its time to get in shape!
Tip 1: Dialing the amp tone to the room
One of the most overlooked concepts in the book, dialing your amp tone based on the room you’re in is a fundamental part of playing live. We’ve all missed it as well; I remember the first proper gig I played as a session guitarist I spent weeks getting my tone in shape. I had this really lovely clean sound that was full and warm, and then when I stuck my overdrive on I had a sweet lead sound that felt like it was going to blow the heads off of every audience member in the first five rows. Unfortunately come show time my guitar sounded like it was being played in the next room and Ididn’t even hear my solos let alone any of the audience. This is because I was playing in a venue, not my bedroom. A room that had lots of different materials on the walls and corners that sound can get trapped in and change the perception of my tone and was full of sound absorbing people (trippy concept but so true).
Put simply, you don’t have a signature tone. There is no one setting on your amp that will work for every gig you play. You have to keep your wits about you when setting up at a gig and make sure you’re thinking about the way your amp
sounds on the day, not what settings you had on it last night. This can be as simple as dialing back the reverb or adding more mids so you cut through. Its not rocket science, it just requires a final bit of care right before you play, and we can all agree that you’d rather spend another five minutes sorting out your tone so that you have a great gig right?
Tip 2: Cutting Bass
This may feel like an extension of point one, and it kind of is, but I felt like it was so important to the guitar player’s live sound that it deserved its own section of discussion. Despite how many times Meghan Trainor tries to convince us, guitar players are NOT all about the bass, quite the opposite in fact. If you consider the four members of your band as frequencies rather than instruments, then it all becomes clear. You’ve got your drummer, who takes a good 60% of frequencies with their bass heavy kick and high frequency cymbals and snare. Then you’ve got your singer who (unless
they’re Johnny Cash) will sit usually in the mid to low-highs, and then you have the bass player. Bass. Player. Who will dominate all of the lows and is the one musician us guitarists want to avoid.
We tend to forget about the relationship between guitar and bass because for a lot of us, we jam in our rooms alone and want a nice full sound so we turn the bass up on our amps and get this well-rounded tone. Well add a bass player to that sound and suddenly were not as full as we once thought. However, it’s a really simple fix, just cut the bass knob on your amp! Imagine you’re trying to sound like Brian May at Wembley when dialing in your tone. Once you reach a point where playing a loud chord is almost unpleasant by yourself, you’ve got your sound. It’ll feel weird when you’re doing it, but you’ll hear the difference in your tone almost instantly once you start playing your set.
Tip 3: Ride your volume
There’s at least one band at every gig that suffers from this. They come on stage, count themselves in and then you’re hit
with this wall of sound that gets you saying ‘Alright, this band sounds huge cant wait for their set’ and then 16 bars into the song and here we are still feeling like the song has just started because no one has turned down or stopped playing to help develop the song. This is called dynamics, and is arguably THE most important asset any musician can have when playing live. If you all just play constantly through an entire song then there isn’t going to be anywhere to go or come back from, its just three minutes of solid sound that ends up feeling unstructured.
If a song starts out big then try dropping your volume in the first verse, give the song some space to breath. Then, once we’ve established a foundation of volume to work from, we can gradually build up until we hit the chorus where you can turn back up to eleven again. Equally, if the song starts out soft then think about where the song is going. Does it need to lift in the pre-chorus? Or do you need to wait till the chorus to start pushing the volume. These little adjustments will improve your live playing ten fold, and the audience will be more engaged for it. At the end of the day we all want to have our moment in the limelight, but if we all try and do it at once then everyone loses, so is it really worth it?
Bonus tip – If you’re a guitarist in an originals band, try considering not playing anything in the first verse or other areas of the song that need space. Space is one of the most useful arrangement tools out there; it can sometimes contribute more to a song than any guitar part could, and it’s easy! You’ll literally get credit for doing absolutely nothing, and how often can you say that?
Tip 4: Know your gear
It’s all well and good spending two grand on your board and bragging to your mates about how your new delay is rack unit quality and you can’t see yourself ever going back. But if it starts producing endless feedback on stage and you have to spend five minutes trying to work out whether it’s a loose cable or a dodgy preset then you’re going to look like more of a novice than the guy who turned up with just an amp and a guitar. This tip is super simple: KNOW YOUR GEAR. I love seeing tons of pedals and effects on stage as much as the next guy, arguably more. But if you’re not going take the time to master it then you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Complicated pedal-boards that have lots of functionality require work, and I don’t just mean getting all your pedals in a nice order to soothe your OCD, I mean understanding every part of it. You need to know how to solve a problem that comes up when you’re performing pretty much instantly otherwise you risk losing the audience. You will never look more amateur than if you turn up with all the gear, and have no idea how to use it when the time comes. So take some time to master your board. You never know, you