Archive for category Guitar dojo
Despite aiming to write, think and play as a musician who uses the guitar as a tool, I feel there is no getting away from that part of playing which is instrument specific. This part can be approached from a few points of view: phrasing, composition or gear. In this post, let’s focus on gear.
First, I must admit I have often been the victim of GBS (Guitar buying syndrome) – I have experimented with many guitars until very recently, when I started using my ’59 reissue ES 330 and a Fender Custom shop Dennis Galuszka Strat/Tele hybrid. At this point, I feel I have ‘found my voice’, something I heard in a Mike Stern interview many years ago and now understand much better.
This search of the right guitar for me has definitely been worth the hassle, primarily because now I don’t feel the guitar I’m using gets in the way of playing. It’s a great feeling. I can now entirely concentrate on practising and playing, which is something many of my favourite musicians, from Eddie Gomez to Keith Jarrett, talk about in various contexts.
For guitar players, which are known for their reliance on gear and very often exaggerate the importance of it, the principle of ’finding your own voice’ applies to guitars, pedals, amplifiers, picks etc, down to the smallest of details.
At the almost very beginning of my experiments with gear, I went to a master class with a very good drummer (whose name unfortunately I don’t remember) who was talking about the same issue for drummers – what drums, sticks etc to use, how to choose the best ones and so on. The answer to all those questions surprised everyone: the musician said ‘Your gear is an extension of you’. The shortest, yet most appropriate explanation he could have given, which I use as the main guideline for choosing gear until this day.
Of course the answer isn’t as simple as it would seem at first – more complex questions would have to be answered before deciding who we are, what does our music stand for and only then what is the best ‘extension’ of our playing in terms of gear.
In our journey of self search and musical identity shaping a great role is played by the sound our favourite players come up with – it is usually a unique sound that represents a big part of their styles of playing and improvising. It is a normal process to study their sound, but sooner or later we all have to come up with something that can be described as our own, similarly to finding a unique voice, this time in terms of sound.
From my experience, choosing the right gear is very much a question of trial and error. One thing to keep in mind though – the sooner you stop worrying about strings, picks, guitars, pedals, amps, cables…the list can go on! – the sooner you will be able to concentrate on playing and enjoy playing with other people. Work well!
A while ago, I came across this statement in a Mike Stern interview, in which the guitarist also talks about ‘finding your own voice, whatever that is’. At first, I perceived is as a more general than practical statement, but now, a while on, I’m starting to really understand this reference to creating an individual style of playing and improvising.
Notes, scales, chords are all important, but in jazz and improvised music in general the driving force behind all those is what makes music happen. Also, many musicians do not have access to formal education and make things happen relying on their talent and making use of their strengths as a musician and improviser.
Apparently, Jim Hall came up with his own style of playing, which is now well known and considered classic by many jazz musicians and listeners, because he couldn’t play fast. If that is the case, his example is perfect for illustrating the importance of finding a unique, personal way of expressing thoughts and feelings through an instrument, in this case the guitar – whatever it is, find and it shall be your way!
There are many examples, particularly in jazz and improvised music, of players adapting technique to suit their own sound and style. Joe Pass mentions in one of his instructional DVDs that you don’t really need a system for your right hand technique, whether you’re playing with or without a pick, all that matters is that you use the technique you’ve got to achieve you musical goals, whatever those might be.
This of course brings us to another important topic – don’t get more technique than you need! As guitar players, we are especially exposed to this ‘danger’, and whether you choose ta call it a danger or not, too much technique without appropriate musical thought can get in between the player and music.
More than ten years ago, I read Philip Toshio Sudo’s book, ‘Zen guitar’. I found it to be a great and refreshing view on playing the instrument, but one thing that really impressed me and I remember to this day is a statement around how to approach playing, something around ‘If you can’t play what your hear, listen to what you play’. This is another view on how to find a personal style, from initial approach to the philosophy behind playing an instrument generally and guitar specifically.
I have also heard many musicians saying there isn’t anything about actual playing in this book, but to my understanding conceptual approaches are much more important when it comes to improvisation and defining a personal style, the rest – notes, vocabulary are also important, but they follow naturally if the player adopts the right attitude and state of mind.
In conclusion, technique shouldn’t be placed in the driving seat, ahead of thoughts – it’s like having the tail wiggle the dog instead of having the dog wiggle the tail! Wes Montgomery only used his thumb, John McLaughlin only uses his pick and so on – what matters is the person behind the music, with all his/her beliefs and ideas.
In the pursuit of perfect tone, I ordered a Mastery bridge for my 75 Telebration telecaster, which with its humbucker in the neck position and the classic 60s pickup in the bridge is the perfect tele for my style of playing. It took a while for the bridge to arrive, but it was well worth the wait in the end. Here’s what the bridge looks like on the guitar:
The new Mastery bridge had been on my radar for some time and this was the perfect opportunity to try one and see how it works for myself – I generally loved the guitar, but the stock bridge on it was, I believe, below the rest of the parts on the instrument. No such issues with the Mastery: the bridge looks, feels and sounds great, keeps the guitar well intonated and balanced, plus it makes a difference to the tone of the instrument overall. I will also post a video with some sound samples, but for now here’s another, this time closer, look:
The bridge was easy to install and set up, the strings on the telecaster do no longer move as they do on the standard bridges and the guitar is a joy to play overall. At a cost of 190$, plus postage and customs if you order from outside the UK, this piece of kit doesn’t come cheap, however, based on my experience, it turned out well worth the money, effort and waiting time.