Guitar

This is my collection of journalistic stories pertaining to maintaining, fixing and playing guitar. I also reviewed some guitar related gear.

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

guitar_bridge

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.


 

Adjusting/Fixing Your Guitar

set-up-guitar

Photo from WagnerGuitars.com

Adjusting, modifying and fixing your guitar can seem like an overwhelming experience at first. There are many factors that can greatly change the overall sound quality of your guitar; for better or for worse. It is important to take your guitar to someone who knows how to handle the subtle nuances that can improve your playing experience.

Larry Wagner, based out of Maumee, Ohio has been playing guitar for over 50 years and has been customizing and fixing guitars for the last 30 years. Wagner owns his own guitar shop and is known in the area as one of the best at handling all questions and problems related to guitars. You can visit his website at www.wagnerguitars.com.

Wagner has a few tips to fixing and maintain your guitar:

1.      Set up is very impotant

  • Intonation and string length have to be correct.
  • Factory set ups leave much to be desired and often need work.
  • The truss rod should be checked and adjusted, along with the action and bridge.
  • Fresh strings will always help the sound.

“All this will help the guitar sound better because it is in tune with itself and the player will be much more comfortable with it,” Wagner said

2.      How to fix fret buzz

  • First step is to adjust the action.
  • After that, the problem could be that the frets are uneven.
  • Commonly, there could be fret wear due to a groove created from pressing down on the strings.
  • Sometimes on a well-used guitar the frets come out of the fret board, especially if it has binding.
  • Frets then need to be reseated and high spots need to be filled and re-crowned.
  • Frets that are coming out of the fret board may need to be entirely removed and replaced.

3.      Fixing Cracks

  • Moisture needs to be introduced to the guitar using a humidifier.
  • A humidifier will swell the wood and will close the crack as much as possible.
  • If the crack is not too bad, glue or a tape clamp might work.
  • Small cleats of spruce may be added to the inside to reinforce the wood.

“Other times you may need an inside caul and a piece of Plexiglas on the outside along with a spreader clamp across the body of the guitar to hold things together while gluing,” Wagner said.

4.      How to care for your guitar regularly

  • Proper humidity of 45 to 50% is key.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes.
  • When finished playing, wipe the neck, strings and body of your guitar with a polishing cloth.
  • When not in use, keep you guitar in the case or on a proper stand, this will prevent accidents
  • When changing strings, clean the fret board and oil it once a year.

5.      Strings make a difference

  • Strings can greatly change the sound from mellow to heavy.
  • The gauge, outer wrap and inner core all affect the sound.
  • There is old flat wound, nickel round wound or stainless steel wound.
  • There is hex core or round core.
  • There is light gauge or heavy gauge.
  • GHS strings have a tone chat on their packaging. (www.ghsstrings.com)

6.      Pickups

  • Pickups will sound like they look.
  • Single coil will sound thinner and brighter.
  • Humbuckers will have more output and mid-range.
  • Cheap guitars usually have bad pickups that can be replaced to get a much better sound

All these factors will help your guitar sound better and help to keep it sounding great for years to come.


 

Guitar Shops Near Toledo

Here are 10 guitar shops near the Bowling Green and Toledo area. Some of the shops specialize in repairs while others are great places to get a new guitar and any guitar accessories, like amps and effect pedals. Some of the shops give lessons and others have a wide range of instruments to choose from.

View Guitar Shops Near Toledo in a larger map


 

Scott’s Thoughts on Guitar

This is an interview with Scott Williams, a local guitar enthusiast, on his passion for the instrument, why he began playing and advice for beginner guitarists. The song that he plays at the end of the interview is called “Jolene” by Ray Lamontagne.


 

The EBOW

ebow

Have you ever wondered how to make your guitar sound like a violin, or if you could play with a bow? Well, the EBow is a tool for guitarists that combines some of these concepts and ideas. The EBow is a hand-held electronic device for changing the sound of the guitar. Instead of using a pick to pluck the notes, the guitarist holds the EBow in his or her hand and is able to mimic the sound of strings and woodwinds with incredible accuracy. The EBow can only be used while a guitarist has a guitar amped. The EBow differs from plug in effects in that the sound is created from interaction with the strings.  According to a website selling EBows, the device was invented by Greg Heet in 1969. There is an internal pickup within the device that works like a regular guitar pickup. The signal goes through the amplifier and drives the other coils, which amplifies string vibrations.

Many great guitarists have used the EBow to create a unique and different sound. Billy Corgan, Zakk Wylde, Eddie Vedder, and Peter Frampton have all used the EBow on at least one of their records. Two of the most notable companies that specialize in making the EBow are Gizmotron and Moog Guitars. The price of the EBow ranges from $50 to about $100.

One of the most recent bands to use the EBow is a band by the name of Sigur Ros. Georg Holm is the bassist for the Icelandic post-rock group and often uses a EBow during songs. The band has both classical and simplistic elements. They are known for their ethereal sound, which is a subgenre of dark wave music or more simply a gothic style. A video example of how to use an EBow is below.


 

Fretlight Guitars

Learning guitar can be a very complicated thing. Your hands hurt from pressing down the strings and contorting in ways that you are not used to. Hours of practice when you first start out can seem like nothing more than running in circles.

Having your own private teacher can get expensive after only a few lessons. There are many things stacked up against you when you want to learn or get better on the instrument.

The Fretlight Company attempts to easy some of these tensions and provides you with your very own tutor. Fretlight guitars use software on your computer and a unique fret board that lights up, illuminating where to play and what notes to hit next. It is almost like guitar hero with a real guitar.

On each fret, there are six tiny LED lights (one for each string) which light up and tell the guitarist when to play a certain note. Once you download the software onto your computer and plug the guitar into the USB drive with a special cable, you are ready for your guitar lesson to begin.

You can pick any number of songs to learn from the massive library that Fretlight has and play along. First the song will play with the guitar part in it, so that you can get used to how it sounds and the feel of the song.

Then the background music will continue to play when you want to play along, but the guitar part will cut out and you will follow along, being guided by the LED lights that flicker on and off. You can adjust the tempo of the song if it is too fast for you and slow it down to something more manageable.

There are numerous types of software that you can download from the company to suit the style you want to play. If you just want to learn chords, there is software which teaches only chords.

There is also software to develop skills at improvising, soloing, using different scales, and finger picking. The sound of your guitar plays through the speakers of your computer along with the background drums, bass and other elements.

Fretlight guitars are perfect if you are just starting out and want to get used to playing simple notes and holding down the strings. The guitars are also great for guitarists who have been playing a long time and want to get better at a certain style. The Fretlight guitars are well made and sound great to play even when you are not using the teaching functions.

I have had an acoustic/electric Fretlight guitar for 5 years and would highly recommend it. I can really notice an improvement in my soloing technique.


 

Roland Micro Cube

The Roland Micro Cube amplifier is no bigger than the lunch box you brought everyday to elementary school. The power output is only two watts and the speaker is only five inches in diameter.

Yet this tiny amplifier packs quite a punch for how small it is. Many of the reviews left on Sweetwater.com (a review site for instruments and equipment) and other sites like it, describe how the sound of the Micro Cube is just as loud as its 20-watt or 30-watt competitors.

The amp is also portable, meaning it runs on batteries (6 AA). If a guitarist wants to bring his or her electric guitar out to a bonfire in the middle of the woods, the Micro Cube will work to bring the sound to the great outdoors.

One Micro Cube amp has seven completely different settings and sounds. These settings range from a simple acoustic setting to more distorted, heavy rock sound. The seven are:

-Acoustic

-JC Clean

-Black Panel

-Brit Combo

-Classic Stack

-R-Fier

-Microphone

Along with the different settings, the amp also has six BOSS effects to choose from. There is chorus, flanger, phaser and a tremolo effect. A separate delay/reverb processor allows for long delays and heavy reverb.

The Micro Cube also has a digital tuning fork, making tuning your guitar a breeze. In addition, there is also an auxiliary input and a recording/headphones output on the back of the amp.

Roland has been a trusted name in amplifiers for many years and the quality of their products can be seen clearly in the Micro Cube. The amp is a perfect practice or small gig amp for guitarists at any level. The Micro Cube is small, durable and has a great sound.


 

How To String Your Guitar

This is a video tutorial on how to string your guitar. It is a step-by-step process from taking off the old strings, adding new ones, and finally tuning your guitar. I used Ernie Ball coated phosphor bronze acoustic strings in the video on my Martin guitar. Enjoy!


 

Worship Music

worship

Everyone knows the lead guitarist in their favorite rock band. Next to the lead singer, the guitarist is often the most popular and well known figure in the band. The guitarist usually gets all the ladies and young kids idolize their heroic axe men with posters that cover the entirety of their walls. Bevan Binder and Kees Groenewegen are both guitarist yet they are taking a different approach than the glamorous fantasies of most aspiring musicians.

Binder and Groenewegen are both seniors at Bowling Green State University who believe that praising God with their music is more valuable than achieving commercials success and becoming famous.

“After I transferred to BGSU from the University of Cincinnati, I met the Lord,” Groenewegen says. “And music provided the medium for me to express my joy.”

Groenewegen is involved in a campus ministry at BGSU called Impact. The ministry provides men and women’s bible studies, a hangout night, an outreach to teens in the juvenile detention center and a large group meeting on Thursdays during the semester. The Thursday night meeting is where Groenewegen gets to play worship music.

“When I first got involved in Impact, we would worship to YouTube videos and sing along with them,” Groenewegen says. “I thought live music was so much more passionate. So, in my junior year I introduced live music to Impact.”

Groenewegen added that the response from students attending Impact to the live music has been very positive and that people seem to really enjoy the full band sound created by multiple guitar players and a drummer playing simultaneously.

Bevan Binder had similar sentiments about the importance of worship music, or music sang and played to praise God. “It’s a way to connect with God,” Binder says. “I don’t fully understand how, but it is some sort of conduit to get close to God.”

Binder plays guitar for H2O church, an on-campus church that has a service at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings and also has small group sessions throughout the week called Fusion groups.

“I look at H2O as my ministry,” Binder says. “I do not get paid for it and there are plenty of times when I would rather sleep in on a Sunday. But I think those are the times that really count, the times when you are sacrificing of yourself.”

Both Binder and Groenewegen shared their excitement for when there is a large group of people praising God.

“It is really awesome to hear everyone singing to God in a unified voice,” Binder says. He also added that it was really cool to be a part of allowing people the chance to do that with his music.

Groenewegen echoed Binder’s comments. “When you get a group full of broken, passionate people who are searching for the truth worshiping together, it is a beautiful thing,” Groenewegen says.

Groenewegen also shared one of the modifications he made to his guitar. His Mitchell acoustic, came with a name brand sticker on the headstock. “I took the sticker off and used my wood burning tools to burn a cross into the wood,” Groenewegen. “Then I burnt in Ephesians 5:19.” The verse reads ‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord.’

Groenewegen concluded in saying, “I hope this guitar can be used to play hymns and spiritual songs and share the love of Christ through music.”

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