Blues Guitar

 

            Many modern genres must tip their hats to the blues. Since the start of blues music, jazz, rock n’ roll and alternative music have come to fruition. If you want to start playing the blues there are certain characteristics in a guitar to look out for.

           “Most blues music requires a lot of bending or pulling the strings to add that soulful vibrato sound,” Ken Strittmatter said, who builds his own guitars. “Larger radius necks make string bending easier.” Chris Baney, a guitarist and worship leader at Basic Truth Church said that he finds semi-hollow bodied guitars to be the best for the blues. He said that Gibson and Gretsch provide a full, rich and deep tone that is perfect for the blues. Baney also noted that many blues greats used a solid body Fender American Stratocaster because it can provide a raw cut through solo sound. In his opinion the Strat has the fastest fret board around the guitar world.

           “With blues music there is a really raw sound that is made from the guitar itself whereas other genres use multiple amp effects to sculpt their sound,” Baney said.

            No matter the style played or the level of skill, finding the right guitar does not have to be a daunting experience. Find out what you want to use your guitar for and what kind of music you will be playing. Pay close attention to the wood used to make the guitar and how it is set up. And the first few times you play get a bunch of buddies to play along with you so you cannot tell the mistakes you are making.

            “If a lead guitarist is on stage with a drummer, percussionist, keyboard player, rhythm guitarist, four horn players, three backup singers, and a lead singer, you really cannot tell if he is playing a $189 Fender Squire or a $2,000 Fender American Stratocaster,” Corky Ballard, a longtime guitarist said half joking.  “The important thing is that you are playing man, experiencing music.”

Setting up your guitar

Electric guitar pickups

So once you have your guitar, what is next in the process? Setting up the guitar is vital once you have the model or body style that you like.

Lowering the action is an easy way to make the guitar easier to play. The action of a guitar is the amount of space between the fret board and the strings on the guitar. You usually want a lower action if you want the playability to increase. If you go to any guitar store that does set ups and ask to lower the action, the guitar technician can usually do it for relatively cheap. What they do is file down the bridge of the guitar, so that the strings sit lower, making it easier to press down on the strings.

Chris Baney, a local musician, said that once you have the desired electric guitar, the first thing you should do is get new pickups. Pickups send an electronic signal to an amplifier to create the sound we associate with electric guitars and give it a distinctly different sound than an acoustic.

“New pickups are relatively inexpensive and can enhance the sound of a guitar tremendously,” Baney said.

Making sure the action of the guitar, the bridge, the pickups and electronics are all set up correctly is huge according to Ken Strittmatter, who has been building his own guitars and amps. “Many beginners give up because the guitar is set up wrong and they cannot figure out why their guitar sounds bad,” Strittmatter said, “You have to make sure that your guitar is mechanically solid.”

Finding your guitar

 

           

           Guitar is the medium that Hendrix used to define a libratory dream better than any 1960s theorist. What Chuck Berry used to give birth to rock n’ roll and what B.B. King used to revitalize the blues. Their signature licks ring out rock nostalgia over car speakers and amplifiers the world over. The classic American sound stays alive today within listeners RCA chords. These great names make any beginning guitarist feel like a mere mortal staring up at the faces of gods, but at the genesis of their career they were alike; unknowing and naïve. What sets them apart from the masses was their persistence to stick it out through the years of trial and error and hours of practice. They had to start somewhere however; and it began with finding the right axe.  

            Chris Baney is a junior at BGSU majoring in music, has a minor in recording technology and knows a lot about guitars. Baney has been a part of a band that has won numerous battle of the bands in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He has opened for well-known bands such as Sanctus Real and House of Heroes. He works as a recording technician at Back Road Studios and is the Music Director for Basic Truth Church in Cygnet, Ohio.
                Baney said that the first step for someone trying to find the right guitar is to determine what they want to use the guitar for. Determining whether you will jamming at home in your pajamas or playing at live venues is what you should consider first according to Baney. Also the style (blues, rock, country) of music you want to play will affect your purchase of a guitar.

           Baney recommends Ibanez electrics for the beginning guitarist. “Basically it is the most cost effective guitar and will give you the same playing capabilities as Gibson or Fender,” Baney said. “Ibanez uses the same ideas to make their guitars as more famous and expensive companies but they use less expensive materials, yet this does not detract from their durability.”

            Corky Ballard lives in Newtown, CT and has been playing guitar since 1967. He has been purchasing and trading guitars for over thirty years and has a recording studio attached to his home. He sneaks away while the rest of his family sleeps and the minutes soon become hours in the old barn that he converted into a studio. Ballard said for a beginner guitarist, he recommends an acoustic guitar with nylon strings, which is also considered a classical style guitar.

            “Learning guitar is all about practice like any other instrument,” Ballard said. “The problem is that your fingers can get very sore from pressing down on the strings. This leads a lot of people to get frustrated and quitting. The nylon strings are very soft and more comfortable for beginners.” Baney added that a Samick brand acoustic guitar is also good for beginners.

             The type of wood that is used in the body, neck and head of the guitar also can affect the sound of the guitar as a whole. Ken Strittmatter has built his own guitars over the past ten years as well as his own amplifiers out of the tubes from Hammond organs. When he plugs into his amp his says he can hear his wife and two daughters slam their doors methodically.  Strittmatter owns over a dozen guitars and has modified all his guitars himself to create a different sounding guitar altogether from the original purchased model.

            “The wood that the neck and body is made from can really effect the sound,” Strittmatter said. “Maple, mahogany, rosewood and solid maple are all great for the neck specifically.”

             Strittmatter said that for the body of an acoustic guitar, spruce and cedar are good choices. “The tighter the grain on the guitar the better the sound will be,” Strittmatter said. “Tight grains are caused by short growing seasons which are a result of a cold climate.” Swamp ash and koa wood are some of the best options for the body of an electric guitar according to Strittmatter.

            Baney agreed with Strittmatter that a spruce body was a good bet for acoustic guitars. “I like a Sitka spruce top for my acoustic because it is a really hard wood,” Baney said. “This type of wood actually plays better the longer you have it. The sound increases overtime and responds well to the resonance of sound waves.” Baney went on to say that for the fret board, a maple or rosewood is the best.

           All three of the guitar aficionados came to the same conclusion about underrated guitar companies. Ibanez, Washburn, Takamine, Squire and Epiphone are all companies that will provide a great sound at a cheap price.

Keb’ Mo’

Keb’ Mo’ playing “Am I Wrong” live. Here he is using a steel electric guitar which is very uncommon and a slide on one of his fingers. A slide is placed upon the strings to vary the pitch of the notes. This slide can be moved along the strings without the guitarist having to lift up his hand, creating continuous changes in pitch.