Choosing New Instrument Missions In The New Year

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And, we are in 2021. What’s in a New Year? After all, our days continue, but the numbers on the calendar change. Exactly right. It is a reminder that 2020 is done, over with, good bye. It is time to pack up your green holiday stuff around the house, put in the basement or attic, and get your action right for 2021.

I prepared a little exercise for you. This is important. And, I really suggest you check it out.

I want you guys to get a single blank piece of paper, get a marker or a pen and write down 4 things you want to get done with your guitar playing this year. Of course, this can apply to any instrument. Be realistic. Give me items that contain a little stretch where it will take work, but ones that will give you a chance to accomplish them. I’ll give you a hint, for guitarists, one of them should be mastering notes on the fretboard. Then, what else? Write a song and put it on Spotify? Jam with a drummer at least 4 times? Learn all the Randy Rhoads modes so you can play them in your sleep?

And, lastly I want you to write down 3 things (or, a sentence) as to why you started to play the guitar in the first place? Was it because it made you feel good? Was it because it gave you a sense of doing something cool, or important with your time? Was it because you were able to find friends and others who “got” what you were about? There definitely are reasons as to why you strarted playing. What are they?

It is important to realign with your original mission as to why you started playing the instrument in the first place. Maybe you are doing it still doing it for the same reasons, or maybe the reasons have changed or drifted away? If you started to play as a way to relax after a long day at work and you still enjoy playing the guitar every night for a half hour, then maybe, you are still accomplishing your original goals. New licks will always challenge you, but knowing that you are doing what you originally set out to do will put things in perspective. And, probably enable you to learn new licks and techniques easier, too. There are many other benefits to doing this exercise.

And, yep, I do the same thing as well. I have a white board in my office where I plan out stuff. It really helps.

Go, Meet Your Heroes

To all of my musician students (especially the truly serious ones) I always recommend reading autobiographies of musicians they like. It is actually not for the reason of sole entertainment. It’s fun to read about someone’s what appears to be exciting life, but reading an autobiography just for that would be missing an important point.

I recommend reading them because life as a serious musician can feel very lonely at times. And, I want my students to know that the path they are on has been travelled many times before by others. I want them to know that although the path of a musician is one out of the ordinary, it is one that is taken on by other people, too. This is important.

I met very few truly serious musicians in my years of teaching. I am talking about ones that want to go for whatever their dream with music is. And, these players usually walk to the beat of their own drum and I know that they feel a little different than some of their musician friends. When you are serious about something, it is a whole other thing. It’s a whole new level of obsession. You kind of need some help from others, but this help can be hard to find. This is why reading is important to know that others found answers and found a way on the same road why students are on.

In short – you won’t feel so alone in your travels.

Expanding By Eliminating

The idea I want to present to you today is the ability to take a deep dive into a subject by eliminating many outside possibilities.

Let’s take a look at playing the guitar, for example. A long while ago, I made the decision to become a specialist in playing the music that I love, which is Heavy Metal. In truth, it was not much of a “choice” really since Metal really grabs the most of my interest. But as a musician, as you grow, you do hear other things and become interested in other styles of music. For me, I always liked the way classical guitar sounded (Thank you, Randy Rhoads), but I realized that if I devoted the necessary time it took to become very proficient at classical guitar, my main goal of playing Heavy Metal would suffer. I decided to expand my ability as a Metal guitarist by eliminating choices that did not lead to the ultimate goal. Yes, even if it was hard to do.

I see this play out a lot in musicians. Many musicians I know want to get good at everything. They want to play a lot of styles and be genuine in each one. Even these days, through teaching many young players, I see a person play as many as several instruments. I mean, sure, it’s wonderful. You learn new things, you develop, etc. But, it’s crowded out there. I believe in order to become a specialist at something you have to 1) devote most, if not all, of your time to become proficient at that one thing and be known for it. 2) you have to understand that it is “ok” not to excel at everything. Believe me, you are still a very valuable person. 3) you have to understand that it is better to do one thing at 99%, than 9 at 40%.

In some way, people feel that they are missing something, or that they do not add up to something, unless they do and know about everything. If you are one of those people torturing yourself, it is “ok” not to be that way and just follow where your true heart leads.

One last point. I am not asking anyone to completely disregard, hate on or never look outside their chosen deep dive. Just know that you’ll have to forgo many B choices and ideas in order to excel at your chosen path.

Why Bother?

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I am hoping to provide a quick answer to a short, but long winded question. In the age of the internet it seems that well playing musicians pop-up every 2 minutes, new songs get released all the time, new albums arrive daily. Why bother? Why would you bother to play, to record or to release your own music? It’s so congested out there with so many people doing “this” already.

The answer is this: What you have is special and unique. No one in the world can do exactly what it is that you do. There is only 1 of you in the sea of human life on earth. With that in mind, anything you do will be unique and special and this is “why” it’s worth doing it.

I have seen several guitar players play throught the same exact amp set-up and they all sounded different. I have heard guitar players play the same riff and they all sounded different. You can copy, but you can’t exactly reproduce another human being.

What is important to know is that you doing “it” is the most important task at hand. Likes, video forwards and the like are nice and are all a nod from people getting something out of what you did. But, that is not the point of doing anything. If you do it for doing “it” because what you have to offer is unique and can offer something to others to boot, then that is all of the reason you need.

A Word About Vacuum Tubes In Guitar Amplifiers

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What’s happening. Today I want to talk a bit about tubes in tube based amplifiers. We’ll save the solid state vs tube amp choice topic for another post, but today, I’ll let you know what I know about tubes.

I have been using tube amps for a long time because I like the way they sound and react to my playing. For my live rig and recording I always go to the main tube driven set-ups.

Now, we have two main type of tubes. (1) Pre-amp tubes and (2) Power-amp tubes. And, sometimes you have tubes used as a (3) Phase inverter tubes. Those are also smaller tubes (actually same tubes and size as pre-amp tubes), but are used as last in line in your pre-amp section before going into the power-amp. The pre-amp tubes are ones that are much smaller in size compared to the power tubes. Both tubes glow in the dark when warmed up in that beautiful warm, amber light.

Most popular Pre-amp tube for metal players is 12AX7. It’s a model name and many companies make them such as Mesa/Boogie, Groove Tubes, etc. There are other tube models such as 12AT7 and the only difference between them all is the amount of gain you get. 12AX7 are hot. Their distortion rating is 100. I like those. 12AT7 are rated at 60. Less hot, but might work fantastic for a blues sound. There is also a Pre-amp tube named ECC83, but guess what? It is exactly the same tube as 12AX7, just named differently for an European market. In some on my pre-amps I have 12AX7s and one has an ECC83, but they are exactly the same tube. If my Marshall pre-amp has the original tubes and the amp was made in England, then yep – it probably has the ECC83 in there.

Power tubes are the bigger ones that also glow nicely in the dark. Usually it is that big glassy tube you see when you look in the back of the amp. You tube amp at least has 2 of them. More on that shortly. Several options exist there such as EL34, 6L6, KT88. For Metal, EL34s work perfect. It’s my favorite tube. It’s punchy and warm.

You usually have 2 power tubes per 50 Watts of power, so if you have a 50 Watt amp, you’ll have 2 tubes. If you have a 100 Watt amp you would have 4. Some guys who have 100 Watt amps remove the two tubes and make them 50 Watters. Cool trick that works fine, you just have to know which tubes to remove.

What is my favorite brand of tubes? So, far I have been familiar with 3 brands: Groove Tubes, Mesa/Boogie and Russian made Svietlana. They are all excellent. There are others from Electro Harmonix, Slovenia. Eastern block is famous for making tubes because so much stuff used to run on them before Western digital revolution showed up there. I remember as a kid growing up in Poland I would turn on our TV and we’d have to wait until it warmed up. We were essentially waiting until the tubes warmed up just like with tube guitar amps. By the way, guitar players take notice – if you take off the stand-by switch off too soon on your tube head you are asking a lot of the tubes. Don’t do that, let them warm up first. So, to finish the TV story, if the TV broke, the repair man usually showed up with a bunch of vacuum tubes. I actually suspect the Eastern block makes most of the tubes for the world since they still have the old technology on hand left over.

I have 4 Svietlanas in one of my power amps and they are very warm and rich. Nice. Mesa/Boogie tubes are excellent and realiable. Pricey though, but they sound great. One thing that Mesa does is “match” tubes together in a package of 2. This is important. I’m not sure what other comapnies do, although I suspect they do this as well. Having tubes matched in pairs saves you from having you amp having to be biased.

Replacing tubes in your amp is something most can do themselves. You remove any retainer ring for a pre-amp tube and they go out. Power tubes simply pull out and pop-in. Works good. I never had an issue replacing tubes, although I do not do that task too often. I run tubes for a long time until they start sounding bad or I think something is off with them. Life span depends on how much time the tube worked for and how loud/hot you run your amps. I run my power amp hot in order to get a well defined sound, so I am sure it’s not the best for the poor tubes. Sometimes the tube starts glowing red (instead of amber) and it can be a sign it’s getting old. But, I have used tubes for years without anything happening to them. It might sound like it’s a lot to think off, but in reality it is really not. I never think about the tubes after they get installed.

And, of course, I have to tell you to always have spare fuses for your amp when playing live, they do pop on rare occasion.

Most Frustrating Gripe From My Adult Guitar Students

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For the most part, I really enjoy teaching guitar to students across the world. And, some of my most fun and longest standing students are adult guys who have been playing for a while, but really need the guitar playing outlet to let go of stress, or they use our lessons to just simply get better.

One of the most common complaints from them is the amount of time that it takes to master things on the guitar. And, of course I know how long it takes to learn to play the instrument properly. I have been playing for decades and still discover, go over, relearn things all the time.

Guitar playing is an never ending trip that you simply get better at along the way. You never really arrive. Ask any accomplished player and most will tell you what else they haven’t gotten down, yet.

So, I always remind everyone that guitar is a difficult instrument to play well. They all are. I think what happens is that adults have done a lot of stuff in their life, achieved a lot of things (a lot of my students are successful professionals), and they feel their life experience should allow them to learn the instrument quickly by now. But, that is not how it works. This sometimes leads to frustration, but to me it’s the entry price you play. If this might be you, remember that everyone feels the same way. This is important to remember.

Guitar playing levels people together. No matter how many records you sold, what you did in your professional life or how successful you are in your other walks of life – it squares us all off with one simple request. It asks us to play and let the music do that talking, right now, today.

Approaching Great Guitar Solos

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I get often asked about how to approach constructing guitar solos. Well, there is a little madness to that, too. To me a guitar solo is like a little song within a song. And, a good solo is one that you simply can’t erase/replace from the song itself; the song would not be complete. Most of the guitar solos we love are just that. Too many to mention, but you know the ones that are a must.

When I write a solo, I want its energy to be consistent within the song that it originates from. It must be related. It depends on what is needed. Sometimes, it can be a short burst of notes, an effect, a melodic line or a big thematic bulldozer with many parts within.

Often I start playing (recording) my solos and I don’t really write them out. This is because I want the solo to bounce off the energy of the song. When I hear a nice part in the solo that I improvise, I usually break it down and work on it a bit. Anything that is catchy I want it to be super memorable. I also want my solos to be a good structured thought and I don’t want my licks to be disjointed and sound too punched in. It must be a listenable story in its own right.

Eddie Van Halen always said that the best solos are one takes. Well, we wish we were so lucky. But, hey, sometimes it happens.

Some players prefer to write stuff out in advance and it certainly can work as well. I heard Vito Bratta wrote out his solos in advance and Vito’s solos are so melodic and well structured that it would be immensly hard to improvise them on the spot.

Since we work in the digital age and you can go back and erase as many times as you want, I play some crazy stuff when I track solos. Some of the things I play miss the mark completely, but I await for that thing I would never play if I played it safe. I’m willing to play something 50 times just to get a few perfect notes. I have noticed some of the greatest artist take chances like that.

When it’s bad – you erase it. When it’s good – it’s like no one else. This is where you want to be to have super high end stuff. Nothing great comes without taking a chance. It is also important to know that writing great guitar solos gets better with practice. Anything you concentrate on and work on gets better. The more solos you write, the better and more professional they sound. Keep going.

How To Get Through Difficult Tasks

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Today, a bit of a cool lesson/tip/hack on getting through stuff that might be difficult or you just don’t want to deal with. Let’s face it, the world we live in is challenging. This leads us in having to do a lot of crap that we simply don’t feel like doing. These can be small items – like broken house/car/music gear item to practicing/writing a song all the way to real serious shit.

On a podcast “Metal Motivation” (now called University Of Baddasery Podcast) hosted by my bros C.J. Ortiz – The Metal Motivator and Pat MacNamara there was a gentleman being interviewed that had extreme health issues. Like, I might not be here tomorrow extreme. So, extreme, that sometimes he had to set a goal of making it through the next 5 minutes, next 10 minutes – however long he needed to get through. This technique allowed him to come out on the other side and has taught me a big lesson as well.

The lesson is that when I got to do stuff I don’t want to do or stuff that is freaking diffucult, I break it down into very small compartments of time or small direct tasks. Today, I was going to a meeting that I dreaded and I said to myself to just concentrate on driving to the location first. I made a point not to think of the meeting itself, or the place inside once I get there, because I did not want to paint a story of what iffs. My goal was just to get there. Once I did arrive, I said to myself that all you have to do it to find the location and tell the people that I am there. I said to myself – just do that. Do that little task, get this done only.

We usually can survive anything as long as we concentrate on surviving next 5 minutes or til the end of today. There is a saying that says you can survive anything one day at a time. This technique helps you stay in the moment on what is important right “now” and not in 2 hours or later today. I’ll have to say this is a fantastic way of going about.

Even with guitar. When I want to write a song, I chisel out task for the next 30 minutes for me to go downstairs, turn-on your amps, tune up the guitar and open up a new Pro Tools session. That’s all. Let me complete that first, I say. Truth is once I am done, I want to do more. So, I come up with a task that for the next 30 minutes I will record my riffs down to a click track. I am not looking for a complete song, or even to be incredibly impressed. I just want to get my ideas down. If that is all I did today, then I completed the 2 tasks I had for my songwriting part of my day. Sure is more than getting all freaked out with how a new song is going to come out and how will I get this “project” done. This is how to get this stuff done!

And, don’t forget to talk to yourself! Pretend you are giving advice to someone you care about. I talk to myself internally or sometimes audibly if I need to drive home a point. Sometimes it’s the only intelligent thing you hear all day!

Do You Need A Guitar Teacher At All?

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Today, I want to share some new thoughts. Do guitarists need teachers at all? In short – answer is No. But, this path, if someone wants to be a bad ass is really difficult one to get right.

At different points we need guitar instructors (or, coaches as I call myself), to help us through some parts. In my life, I learned more from hanging around better players than me and also ones that played slightly different styles than from my formal guitar teachers.

My main core of playing was learned from Metal Method mail-order lessons. Then I joined a High School jazz band. In the jazz band we used to take the bus in order to travel to other schools or competitions and I really, really loved taking a trip somewhere to play music. This planned the bug. In Berklee, I was friends with players who played since they were 6 years old sometimes and they often blew me away ability wise. They were extremely technically proficient and talented. However, sometimes too much talent can work against you … often times, doing stuff that is all of the sudden super hard and challenging is not understandable to someone who breezed through everything.

Me? I had to put in the time every damn time. Sure, some stuff comes easier for me, but there were many times someone’s advice helped me along a lot.
I think guitar teachers save you time, so you don’t get stuck making the same mistake for a year. They can steer you away from getting there in the first place. Sometimes, you need someone to nudge you along with good info. Even Tiger Woods has a performance coach. When we are too much on the inside of our playing we can’t be objective.

Players can get really good on their own, but it takes a lot of self awareness, intuition and looking afar at your own playing. There are a lot of skills involved and getting a good teacher is a huge help. I see many pro players get together backstage and learn from each other. Metal drummers have a great little community all of their own. I constantly hear drummers share skills and ideas.
No one learns guitar “really” on their own, because if you did far away from everyone somewhere in the mountains, you would have your own way of tuning the guitar and playing chords, etc. You Tube, friends, teachers – it is all a part of what allows you to get better. Guitar teacher (a good one, that is) is just the most direct, communicable way of getting info and advice so you can get better.

Food for thought.

The Seperator Between A Great Guitarist & A Frustrated One

Here are some thoughts to consider. One thing I found out by examining the best guitarists that I know is that they all seem to love learning things on the guitar. They love the entire process of playing, learning things, getting better. They find joy in playing at whatever level they are at right now, while knowing that there is some room for improvement.

Many players I know get impatient with learning and they often are asking why it’s taking so long for them to get a part down, or they anxiously wait until they get to a goal.

The process itself to the goal is built on and filled with frustration. You do that for a couple of years – and, guitar playing sucks. That is not the way to approach it.

So, ask yourself whether you are intrigued by playing and do you really enjoy having the guitar in your hands, do you like the whole guitar universe … but, not only when it comes to gear. Buying gear is too easy. For gear, you give money and get a positive boost for a few days. This is why new gear gets old fast and something learned that’s new on the guitar stays with you forever.

I think you need to accept the fact that you will never “arrive” and will always be a student of the guitar. A much better student as years go by, mind you. Well, if you put in the work. Those are important ideas to keep in mind for you. Do you like the process and love the guitar, or do we want to get to a goal, so we can get something else from it?