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Starting to Take Lessons!

I’ve been dealing with a lot of “beginner’s” subjects lately such as starting a band and the like, but there is no question that how you learn and who you learn with should be a major priority when you are first starting out.

When I was just a kid, I had already been studying the violin, as well as always experimenting with it and teaching myself things, but my Dad noticed that I was doing a very nice job playing along with his Flamenco records with just a broken 2-string guitar we had lying around the house. This led to his encouraging me to continue with the guitar, and he immediately started looking for a Flamenco guitar teacher in the New York City area, of which there were absolutely none! Finally, we settled on a very wonderful classical guitar teacher named Shirley Dewald, who was extremely encouraging of me, and who so noticed that I had such a good ear that it delighted her to no end! This gave me an enormous confidence boost at the time, which was something I really needed to keep me “buoyed” and feeling good enough about myself to continue. Another great thing about starting with classical guitar was that to this day, it has given me a great right-hand technique, and an enormous amount of respect for the guitar, and its physical requirements and challenges.

As you start to learn from others (and I hope you’re utilizing my countless free Gibson lessons!) it’s so important that you feel that you are in a supportive environment, and that folks such as your parents, relatives, friends and even band mates are really all in favor of what you are doing. Without this special and so important support, really none of us would ever get very far, to say the least!

So be sure to look for the right feeling to have with your teacher(s), because as you are developing, these things have a way of really sticking with you, and will unquestionably have a lasting effect way down the line! I should know….because even though I have 99% taught myself, it’s some of those incredible early lessons and learning experiences that have really stuck with me, and gotten me through many phases of my self-learning, ad my ability to absorb what others are doing as well! Choose your teachers wisely, they’ll mean more to you than you’ll ever realize!

Posted: 30/08/2011 16:49:12 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Looking to Start a Band?

The early, formative years of forming bands can be a truly exciting time for anyone, and I can vividly recall all of those wonderful and optimistic times I had with my buddies “back in the day!” This is a critical time for you, filled with emotions, thoughts, considerations, downfalls and up hills for sure, and it’s a time that is full of things that can go wrong.

One thing that is certainly to become a sore issue, and one that I’ve seen many a time, is how you sometimes feel obligated to a friend to have them in a band, even though their playing ability and talent may not be up to the standards of everyone else in the group. This is a sensitive thing for sure, and believe me, many of the “innocent parties” in a case like this, are not so innocent, and are acutely aware of their “lesser” position in the band, musically. And they also know that the main reason they are there is because they are your friend. There are many times I’ve worked with bands with whom you can immediately tell, just by body language, who really feels secure in their position, and who is a little bit “shaky.” My heart always goes out to that “shaky” one, since I have always naturally rooted for the “underdog” in many situations, and I can know and feel what that kid (or adult!) might be going through!

Still, if you have a situation like this with someone, you must eventually come to terms with it, and become really truthful. After all, we never want anything or anyone standing in the way of true band and musical progress!  It’s a sensitive issue for sure, but the kind that the sooner you deal with, the better. Not to mention learning good “life lessons” in handling “touchy” situations correctly and effectively!

There is also of course, the simple fact of really looking to make the best happen for your band, right from the beginning. It’s hard, because your “sphere” of friends and players to choose from is still smaller than it will ever be, and defining your “sound” is still a developing process. I do firmly believe in a band that has a “democratic” way of dealing with decisions, but I also believe that all bands do need a leader. Most of the great bands have had “leaders” that have really always pointed the group in the right direction, written the songs, chosen the material and who gave the band their prime “identity.”  Can you imagine Creedence without the leadership of John Fogerty, or the Byrds without Roger McGuinn…of course not. This is how you should look at yourself as the potential “leader” of your group, and as the true “force” behind making the important decisions one must always make in these formative years of your musical career! Lot of luck!

Posted: 29/08/2011 17:31:31 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More New Guitars Versus Old!

I have long been a purveyor of the “old is better than new” adage for a long time for sure, and this love for vintage guitars goes back to the mid-sixties for me! But when you really think about it, at the time, when I got my 1952 Les Paul gold top, that guitar was a mere 15 years old! What was special about it was that there had been no Les Pauls made since 1960, (imagine, a ’60 burst was only 7 years old!) and the new guitars that were being made at that time during the “Beatles boom” were just not being made up to the quality of the previous years. Hence, we had the beginning of a vintage “craze” that has lasted ever since, and of course, seen vintage prices soar, and the years of vintage “quality” keep expanding! For example, there are over polyurethane guitars from 1974 that people consider true “vintage” that I just think of as poorly made, barely playable instruments!

The truth of the matter is that players today have a better and bigger choice of finely-built instruments than ever before, and it’s staggering just how many great guitars there are to choose from! Of course, ever since the late-Sixties, there has been a growing movement of independent luthiers who really brought some fresh new ideas to the fore, and who brought back a lot of the hand-built quality.

Also, the Japanese makers in the early ‘80s were also very good at filling a void in the quality of the American guitar makers at the time, by essentially showing us what we had been missing. Many of these brands were simply “knock-offs” of vintage Gibson and Fender-type guitars, and it wasn’t very long before the American makers got “the message”, and started bringing up the quality of their own instruments, and winning back their proper share of the market.

Today, there is such a wealth of fine guitars with good quality control that it literally boggles the mind! I am totally in love with the new Gibsons, for example, and would not have a problem with any one of them. In fact, I firmly believe that this is a “renaissance” of guitar making these days, and that many of the instruments we see as new now, will be future collectibles for sure! I also believe they will always hold their value, and in fact, will continue to rise in value as the years go on!

So, be sure to take a good, hard look at the wonderful guitars available to you today, and you’ll certainly see that so much of the “vintage” touch and aesthetic is truly alive and well with today’s new instruments! Happy guitar hunting!

Posted: 22/08/2011 10:17:21 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Travelin' Guitar!

Being able to continue your playing while not at home has always been an important continuing step in the development of all guitar players. It’s always been a challenge for me to play when on the road, especially when on the road for other reasons that don’t really involve the guitar. It’s very important to keep up your playing/practicing, and therefore your “chops” at all times, and of course, many makers have created special “traveling” guitars just with this purpose in mind.

One of my favorite little road “tricks” to keep up my playing is simply to be sure to visit music stores whenever and wherever I can. This has always been a real “lift” for me in many ways, because it usually turns into a little “performance” I give in the store, and quite often I am recognized, and before you know it, it turns into a public social event! But the main thing I gained from that experience was that I played and was much better for it!

Another thing I, and others have often done is to “sit in” with other players who are in town or from the area. I can recall several wonderful times like this, but one especially sticks in my mind from down in Fredricksburg, Virginia, where I had a very well-attended guitar clinic of my own that was sponsored by  a local music store… seemed that this particular town was a real “hotbed” for bluegrass and other forms of music, and after my show, I was invited to not one, but actually four afterhours jam sessions, and opportunities to sit in! Needless to say, I left that town with sore fingers, and with a satisfied soul, for sure! The people were so friendly and welcoming, and I loved how such a big deal was made of the fact that I was in that town in the first place! This also brings up a lovely town called Madison, Indiana, and a store there called Crawdaddy Music, where I always stop on my way to Nashville, and invariably always end up playing some fine vintage pieces for a long time, or even take part in a little “closing time” jam with the employees! It’s a great way to have a fun experience while on the road, as well as make new friends and acquaintances, for sure!

I sure do recommend having some kind of smallish “travel” guitar as part of your collection. I can recall two trips I made to California and back on the train, can how great it was to have my little travel guitar to pass the time with, and to write songs with as I watched the incredible landscape of America go by.

I even find it hard to this day, to not stop into one of my favorite NYC shops whenever I am down there, and to have a nice play on some fine instruments! So keep this in mind as you travel around, and always be sure to take the time to play as much as you can while away. I make a point of it, and it will always be truly rewarding for you to set aside that time for your “chops” to be kept up! Happy travels!

Posted: 17/08/2011 13:56:32 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Choosing the Right Guitar for the Job!

There’s no doubt about it…some of us may hate shopping for a new car, groceries, linens, whatever it may be, but there’s nothing like choosing the right guitar for the job! I often pride myself in bringing many guitars to a recording session, affording me as many “real” sound alternatives as possible when it comes to my choices, but many of us don’t have this same luxury.

I always feel that when you buy a guitar it must certainly be a good “fit” for the player, physically as well as sound-wise, but I also feel it must be as versatile as possible. Studio work as well as live playing truly dictates this need, and lord knows I have made very few guitars at times, work for so many different kinds of sessions, it’s mind-boggling. Still, these days, with all the options available to you, you can truly choose wisely when it comes to a guitar’s versatility.

Pickup combinations, sound choices, coil-tapping, on-board overdrive, Piezo pickups, the variations are staggering, and of course, if you don’t mind tinkering on your own or paying extra for others to do it, you can really Customize” your axe! A good tremolo (whammy-bar) unit may be just the ticket for you to add-on, or a third pickup in between the bridge and neck ones for sure will give you more variation. You then can choose any number of pickup switching combinations that can get you an incredible array of sounds for sure, even some things where you can “split” the coils, and alternate between single-coil or humbucker-type tones.

I really think the best kind of variation that will give you the most bang for the buck is definitely the single-coil verses double-coil “humbucker” approach. This will allow you to get either bright and warm tones, overdriven sounds, or just pure, clean sounds, all of which are certainly desirable, and may be needed in the course of a concert or a recording date. Onstage, we don’t want to do too much guitar switching, as it kind of slows things down too much, so a versatile guitar is really a “must” for these situations. When you are calling “your own shots” musically, it is of course, one situation, but when you are working for others who may make sudden demands on you, the most versatile approach is surely the one you want to take!

Stomp boxes aside, and I do believe many of them are valid, you still must make sure you can first get as many variations of sounds and tones out of your beloved guitar, before “farming out” any other sounds for sure! Remember that the most important tonal variations still first and foremost come from your fingers, and if the guitar truly “fits” you, then it’s the one to go with for as many situations as possible! I hope you enjoy that tonal ride!

Posted: 16/08/2011 10:46:47 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing from the Heart!

No matter how much we think we are learning from others, such as other players, and even teachers such as I the “real deal” is going to come from your own heart and soul when it comes to your playing. I know that I have always sought my own sound when it came to me being an experienced player or even when I was a beginner, and this is something you always must strive for!

In the same way, it’s very important to look for those special moments when you really start to feel “at one” with your instrument. This means those certain times of realization where, even though you may not “know it all” yet (we never do!), you feel like you can really use the guitar as an extension of your heart and your soul. Not only that, but you can literally start to express yourself through your guitar on a complete “one to one” basis, with nary a thought involved at all! When people ask me what I think about when I play, I always say “nothing!” It’s true…there should be no thoughts involved when you are playing from the heart, only instinctive reactions…it’s almost as if you’ve developed a kind of deeply inbred and universal instinct that man has long-since forgotten, and that you are re-awakening!

All this being said, you truly can recognize it when it does happen, and playing from the heart should be what you are always after. It’s true there are the more “academic” ways of learning the guitar, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it all boils down to how you apply all this knowledge, and how it ends up translating to your heart ad therefore to the listener’s heart and ears! Music is such an incredibly universal language. It’s as if we all share this truly primal need to equate sounds with our feelings. Memories, emotions, loves, almost anything, can be conjured up by what we hear in music, and when we are playing it, it should have a similar effect on us. There are many pieces of music that can make me cry quite easily when I hear them, and occasionally even the rare piece that I might play that will make me cry myself!

We’ve all heard the expression “less is more”, and this is certainly true when it comes to using the fewest amount of notes to say the most we can. This is perhaps the most important part of playing from the heart, and when it comes to creating a work of art, which any solo or guitar part must be. Less should always be more, and when you are truly feeling it, that’s all you’ll need. Just look at B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, Hank Garland…these people have always understood that they could say just what they needed, with a total minimum of notes needed to get the job done! Good luck!

Posted: 03/08/2011 9:10:03 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Support Your Fellow Players!

Whether you live in a small town, or in a big metropolitan area, the same thing holds true regardless; the music world can be very small, and what “goes around can come around.” This means that within this “small world” you always want to feel supported by others, as well as supporting those fellow players of yours. This means that even though “behind the scenes” other “back-stabbing” may be taking place, but at least for now, it’s important that you put a good face on things. This can only benefit you in the future as well as the present, and you’ll no doubt see it have an impact as you get more and more into the music “scene”, wherever that may be for you.

Even a place like New York City, where I cut my teeth in the business, can feel very small when it comes to music. I can remember for example, a time when another guitarist and I seemed to always be passing each other, either going in to an audition, or going out!  What was funny was just how friendly it always remained, and that when we finally, years later, ended up doing the same gig together, we truly started to hate each other! Maybe I should just say we felt “competitive” with each other on the gig, but we managed to “tolerate” each other’s presence. The truth was, I was happy to never ever play next to that guy again, and was so glad when the gig was finally over! Truth be known however, if I had to gig with him again tomorrow, I’d keep it friendly, and I’d expect the same from him. This is also because there’s been a lot of time passed since, and I would hope for more professional tolerance from him!

This is true also of bands treating other bands nicely. Odds are you’ll one day be trading members, sharing bills, maybe even giving lessons to someone else! Maybe they’ll even be using your licks to steal away a gig from you! This is a situation I am very aware of, and sensitive to, and yes, even though I have taught seemingly half the world to play the guitar, to this day, I have students who are playing my licks on gigs I should be doing!

Regardless, I go on teaching these players, and I never really feel bitter, because I feel secure in my own reputation, and the amount of respect I get within the guitar-playing community. This is what’s most important, and you must always look down at it all, and be able to see the “bigger picture.” What’s always far better will be to be known as a “good guy”, and as someone who has always helped others, and been supportive of them, no matter what! So, keep this in mind as you move forward in your career, because those folks you help, will one day be needed to help you right back! Be good!

Posted: 29/07/2011 9:35:29 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Be a Team Player in Your Group!

One of the most “growing” and mature things anyone can do who is a guitarist is to learn about truly being a “team player” within any band you’re in. This was something that was obvious to me once I really started becoming a “sideman” as opposed to a “front man” in the earlier part of my career. The “team” aspect of the equation is not only a musical situation, but it’s also a psychological issue that has so much to do with how you relate to the other players in the band.

The “team” aspect has so much to do with being supportive of the other players, praising when praise is due, and also, as I do many times, taking a player, such as another guitarist, under my “wing.” This can pay you back in droves, and is always a good thing that reaps many rewards for you, for sure. Of course, this all doesn’t mean you have to give up taking solos, or stepping out into the limelight, but it means that no matter what you might be contributing, it’s done in a spirit that always is done for the betterment of the “whole”. If we look into the history of some of the best bands with obvious “leaders” we can still see how these folks were also “team” players in the truest of spirits. Examine John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater, or Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. Sure, these are all guitarists and front men who went on to great solo careers, but their initial success was in bands where they shined for sure, but also bands that operated well together as a “whole”.

I can remember touring with Huey Lewis and The News, a great bunch of guys, and there was never a sense that Huey was ever more than one of the band members. Of course, he was heaped with affection from the fans, but what made them truly “cool” as a band, was that they actually came off more as a band, as opposed to a band that was backing up a lead singer. You can even tell the friendship that exists between them all, whether onstage, or even back stage, where after each and every show we would all hang out and sing “doo-wop” a capella harmonies. The camaraderie and friendship that was there was so undeniable, it made you proud just to be hanging out with them!

So this skill and effect of being a true “team player” is really honed right from the very start. Take note of what others do, praise them for it, make your criticisms truly constructive, and try to do it all in a positive manner. In the same way, don’t let others forcibly and nastily not allow “team” playing. This should be a true “red flag” of an individual who will be hard to get along with, and someone who in the long run will hurt the overall “team” effort! So, beware of the pitfalls, but for sure, accentuate the positive as much as you can, while eliminating the negative! Best of luck to you and your “team!”

Posted: 22/07/2011 16:55:57 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Album Concepts and Covers

Getting ready to do a photo shoot tonight for my new album, which of course, has “album covers and concepts” on my mind. I’m a very visual as well as musical person, and there literally have been times when I already had conceived of the album cover’s ideas and concepts, even before I was 100% sure of what music I was going to do on the record! There are many more artists than we think who conceptualize in this way, and I feel that it shows a definitive direction on the part of an artist, and can even serve as further inspiration in terms of what music is going to be on the recording.

It’s very important to have a strong sense of how you, as an artist want to be represented in all your photographs as well as album covers, and sometimes, it may take actually seeing the photographs, before you actually determine just what that image will be. This is also a good way to work, especially if you are looking for something extremely real that absolutely represents “you!”

Still, it can be fun to try out different ideas and concepts before the photography begins, and even though I had many ideas put on the back burner for album cover concepts, this one really took hold late, and ended up taking the lead (pun intended!)

It’s worth it always to use really good art people in the creation of your album cover, because the last thing you want, unless on purpose, is a really unprofessional-looking job! This is unfortunately the case quite often, and even as fair as I might try to be, I will somehow be slightly dissuaded by a really bad album cover or concept! Of course, these days, almost anything really does go, and there are many wonderful “retro” looks that you create for your cover that can harken to, and conjure up all kinds of new and intriguing ideas. You basically want something that is going to heighten the curiosity of the person who might be holding the cd/album in their hands, and will want to influence them to take that next step to buy it, and listen!

The old days of actually having a large, full-sized album cover in your hands while listening to its contents was a glorious high point for sure, and this album is also going to be released as vinyl as well as cd, so we can take full advantage of the larger format, and all that extra “creative room” it allows us! I, of course, also harken to the vinyl era, as my first 4 albums were strictly vinyl, and had all that wonderful space to play with! This album will open up, so it will have 4 surfaces total, and should be a blast to create! The music is ready, and now it’s time for the cover!

So remember, the idea of your cover art must really be a fun process, and you never know just what direction the whole visual process might go in……just like the music itself! Have fun with it, and let it truly “speak” for you, and what’s going to be listened to once it’s opened up!

Posted: 13/07/2011 9:12:27 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Mixing and Mastering in the Studio

Lately, I’ve been very involved in the making of my new album, particularly now in the “post-recording” part of it, so I figured since it’s so on my mind, I can pass on some valuable tips to you…..

This is an era that has totally changed everything in terms of digital recording and mixing, and in many ways it has made the whole process less tedious and tiresome, and far easier, with many more infinite possibilities available to you! With the advent of programs such as Pro Tools, Logic and others, the ability to manipulate, modify and generally “fix” things in the mix has become an entirely new world of recording, that is even changing music itself.

I don’t subscribe to much of the electronic-type music, and the over-use of certain blights such as the renowned “auto tuning,” but there are many benefits of the digital process for sure. I can remember recording down in Nashville a few years ago, and noticing that the studio we were working in was still “tracking” to tape, and then finishing with digital. I liked this sort of “halfway” approach to the digital revolution, because it enabled us to without question, get a warmer, fatter sound on the basic tracks themselves. This really didn’t hold us back at all, as once we were ready to do overdubs and mix down, we had the flexibility of digital programs to make the final steps that much easier.

The greatest moment, and perhaps the hardest when it comes to creating a work of art is knowing when it is done. This is critical for all art forms, such as painting, writing and photography, and having all these new “toys” at our disposal these days, combined with the relative “ease” digital gives us, it can really be a bit hazardous in post-production. I mean, if an engineer is really quick, it almost makes him tempted to try all that he can try, regardless of whether it is truly “done” or not. This is definitely dangerous, and can also run up budgets to the moon if you’re not careful.

It’s true that it always takes a while to “train” your ear for things such as post-production mixing and mastering, but it should really be worth your while to spend the time with your engineer making sure you see and hear just what is going down I have now been through 2 full “pre-mixes” of my stuff, and feel confident in my incredibly talented engineer to not “overdo” it now we’ve reached the place where I love the parts, the sounds and the levels!

So beware of the “over-doing” it part, and always be sure to trust your ears as to when “enough is enough.” There will always be time to go back to it later, and hey, no problem with tape!

Posted: 08/07/2011 0:01:00 with Comentarios | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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