Guitarists: The Importance Of Recording Yourself To Get Better

Today, I want to stress the importance of recording yourself in order to speed-up your guitar progress.

Guys, I can not stress enough how important it is to record yourself on video (or, even audio) and what listening back to yourself does to your playing.

The thing is that no-one has to pin point many of the mistakes, since you know yourself what can be improved. This constant checking-in with your playing really accelerates your progress.

I always say it is like leaving the house without looking into the mirror, brushing your hair in the dark & picking your clothes blindly. After you see yourself in the mirror – you go wow! Little improvement might be needed. And, I can only say this because I’ve been there, too often as I matter of fact.

One thing I believe that helped me get better quick is that I was making music demos from very early on. I did not wait til I felt good enough. I just did it. They were demos to show my songs and with each one, I got better because I learned. Even with musicians, you can see the progress from their debut album on. It works like that with the guitar.

Whie we play the guitar it is very hard to judge your progress from day to day. But, when you look back at a video from 3 months ago, you can really see if you have improved or not. This is very helpful. I would say it’s essential. You see where you are yourself. Have you improved? No? When you see improvement – it’s super encouraging to keep going. Great plus.

Eventually, you come to the place when you realize that it is hard to master the guitar while mastering how to record it, so it sounds good. You get to know your instrument so well when recording it for real.

Also, my last point. To master something does not necesarrily mean to become the ultimate jedi master of it. It means to be able to recall something quick. Even when you master something and think you are the jedi master; there are always another levels to getting something down even better.

So, think about it and hope it helps.

Thoughts On Bolt-On & Neck-Through Guitar Designs

Every so often, I get an e-mail from a fellow guitar player who wants my opinion on bolt-on and neck-through guitar designs.

Since I have played both versions of guitars, I am going to put down a couple of points that quickly come to mind. In the beginning, I only “heard” that neck-through guitars had supposedly more sustain.

Those type of guitars were usually out of reach for me price wise, so I stuck with my Ibanez RGs (which, I still like a lot) and then ESP models. A while back, you would not dream of owning a neck-through guitar unless you got the expensive models.

Guitar manufacturers offer a lot of bang for the buck these days in order to stay competitive. I am not saying that bold-on guitars are always more expensive; they are not. You just could not get one until you reached a certain price point years ago.

When I got my first USA made Randy Rhoads V, I ended up with a neck through guitar and yes; I definitely did notice that the guitar sustained longer and overall had a warmer, rounder tone to the notes.

One thing, I DID notice however, is that my old neck through guitars has much more immediate notes. It is hard to describe this, but the notes on my bolt-on guitars were quick to leave the guitar and were crisp.

In a way this makes sence why many shredders use bolt-on necks, be it Ibanez or Fender or similar guitars. So, in short – there is no better. It still goes back to preference.

I am happy to be playing my neck through guitars for the last 20 years or so and I have learned to play with their drawbacks and advantages. Guitarists should always choose what suits them best personally and what their budget allows. Good luck!

Dreams Are Given To You For A Reason

Today, I would like to write about a topic that I find very interesting – our dreams. And, for the sake of clarity, I am not referring to a dream that happens to you while you are asleep, although I am not excluding it from our subject altogether.

I am talking about the dreams that we sigh to ourselves that one day we would love to do, the one days, the wouldn’t that be cool to do dreams.

It is my belief that these dreams find you for the reason and that reason is that you are capable of achieving them. These dreams are your beacons of what you are capable of. In short, you wouldn’t have these dreams and deep desires if they were outside of your reach.

This is similiar to a particular talent nudging you to try to play the guitar, paint, design or whatever it might be. We develop interests in a subject and this is very often a clue of might be a good fit for us to go after. So, if someone writes me and asks if playing the guitar at the age of 40 is a good idea for them, I always tell them that if they have an interest in playing, then I’d encourage them to try. Simple as that.

So, while many think a dream is just that – something we fantasize about and leave in the distant, I would like to urge you to look at them as a nudge of possibility.

Is everything we think of achieveble? Well, honestly, I don’t know. Probly not. However, with planning, desire, execution and committment,  a whole lot can indeed be achieved. A lot more than we give ourselves credit for. Perhaps some things are out of reach and if so – so what. I want to make the point, most importantly, that you should understand that dreams are more than just merely being fantasies; they are the first starting point for your actions.

They are given to you for a reason. They are given to you so you can act on them.

Just listen to the above and take it as you wish.



Delivering The Riff – What Makes Certain Guitar Riffs Truly Great

One thing I have noticed is that a great riff possesses its own “star” quality. In some ways, it is very hard to put your finger on what makes a riff great. You just know that you like it and that it is good.

A perfect example of this is the opening to “Crazy Train”, you agree? The riff bounces around familiar note choices to heavy metal, yet, whenever this riff starts it just pops. This is kind of like a great song. The song might use the same old 3 chords, yet it sounds fresh and inviting to listen to.

So, few thoughts on awesome riffs and what makes them great.

1) The riff has a star quality to it. You know, for whatever reason, that it is awesome.

2) Once the riff ends – you want to hear it start again. The ending of the riff strongly pulls to it being played again. And, you want to hear this as a listener.

3) The performance of a riff is spot on. The execution and attack on the riff is special.

Have you ever noticed when some players play a famous riff and when they play it it sounds like nothing special? That is the performance of it that I am referring to.

4) The sound of the riff is awesome. This is mostly what I refer to the guitar tone. What makes many riffs pop is a combination of guitarist’s style augumented by a great, or at least memorable tone. Most (perhaps all) guitarists have their own tone. That tone changes (improves) as players develop better technique and understanding of the guitar. When you combine personal style and tone in a strong package, you have a very solid ground for potential memorable riffs of your own.

Unspoken Secret Of A Bigger Guitar Sound

I was speaking with a friend who is a drummer for a touring metal band. He mentioned that the band he plays for recently downscaled their line-up to one guitar from a previous two guitarist unit. They were not sure how the band’s sound was going to be because in theory one less guitar would mean a weaker sound. Upon my friend’s recommendation to have the remaining guitarist play the metal parts with more of a bigger, aggressive, open, rock feel – the guys in the band actually realized that things are sounding pretty good and have so far continued to tour as a four piece.

I thought about that and I realized that another truth of a great guitar tone lies that example.

I consider myself a full-on heavy metal guitarist and have had that exact goal of becoming one from the day I picked up my guitar. However, as I was growing up I developed a taste for all kinds of rock and metal music and enjoyed everything from Whitesnake to Motley Crue to Fates Warning to Loudness to Priest to Megadeth and Slayer. You get the idea. I was scrutinized in High School for that, as many might remember that if you liked real metal you only stuck to a particular band and heavier. Didn’t matter. I thought that was stupid.

I never learned a huge boatload of songs while learning how to play the guitar, but one thing I definitely worked on is hearing the way the guitars sounded in a particular band. I quickly learned to distinguish how Mick Mars from the Crue “hits” the chords versus someone like Akira from Loudness and how the band’s sound changes because of that. I learned how punk inspired aggression works in a band like Slayer and how K.K and Glenn Tipton let their early psychedelic rock roots influence the great sounds on the early Priest albums. My guitar riff bible comes from early Megadeth records where there was just enough precision and attack to make the riffs come alive. Those records really pulled in nearly perfect mix of early Priest like sound into a pissed off, frienzied, machined metal assault. I dug it. It was perfect. You were able to hear the notes, the overtones, the attack while you were allowed some air to enjoy it all.

I think it is a good idea to listen to bands who might not fit into a particular genre you might be into. As I said, I dug uber heavy down-tuned sludge of Carcass, could appreciate the looser Aerosmith inspired riffing and also took good note from Dime’s surgical precision of riffing. I suppose it is about being open to learn lessons from others while you shape your sound.

I might get some heat for this, but I believe the art of great guitar sound is slowly slipping in heavy metal. I think the recording medium is partly to blame and how guitars are edited. All I am really saying is that I do not hear “auras” of guitars like I did on records a while back. You knew which band it was by the sound of their guitar. Maybe it’s me, but I think many might agree. You knew that “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” was a Judas Priest song even before Rob’s vocals came in. Did anyone question who the band is when they heard the riff and guitar tone in “Walk” by Pantera? Who knows, maybe our uncles felt the same about their music versus the one we grew up on. Whichever decade that might be.

To cap of this blog – I think it is important to listen how bands achieve sounds and how this information can ultimately shape your own tone. All great guitarists have been known to have a solid guitar sound and a particular way they play it or attack the chords. Without getting too technical, you can play metal while injecting good movement in your picking hand to let the notes breathe. Many people try to copy Yngwie’s licks and sound, yet not many realize that the space in between the notes is where the answer might hide. I see many guitarists just “play” chords and hear them come out on the other side through the speakers, but we can do even better that.

I hope you can take the above and see how it can work for you. This is just my observation and I’m simply sharing what I noticed through the years.

Up-Grading Your Guitar Or The Never Ending Search For A Better, Often More Expensive Instrument

Today, I will talk a little about upgrading your guitar. I received an e-mail from my student Ed and I thought it would be best to answer it here since many of us might find the info helpful or at least interesting.

The e-mail contained a few great questions. To answer them I will use the example of a Jackson, not only because I know these guitars best, but also this is a brand Ed was asking about in the e-mail.

1. Are USA made Jacksons better made than, let say, ones made in Indonesia? Is it true that the quality of instruments overseas is now better than before?

MM: So, I have never received a guitar that was made in the USA (for that matter a USA model Jackson) that was poor in quality. The factory looks over each model that I get and makes sure it is right before they ship it to me. Every single time I open the case, the guitar plays fantastic. One thing that is interesting is that Jackson does not make a ton of these USA guitars at all and the supply is limited. They don’t want to sit on a bunch of unbought guitars. Each one is well balanced, meaning they feel just right and it does not tilt from left to right when you have it on a strap. Overall, I must say the USA made Jacksons are really an amazing sounding guitar. I play them because I like them, that is pretty much it.

Now, with that said, when I got cautious about taking my USA made Jacksons overseas one time for a tour, Jackson sent me a “Professional” model. I was surprised how well it plays and it sounds very good. So, if this is an indication how they make them overseas now, than yes, the quality has improved a lot. These Professional models are made in Indonesia as well. Another student of mine, wanted one and he is super picky about the guitars being mint and perfect. I saw the 3 Jackson Professionals that Sweetwater Music sent him and they were all excellent. He kept sending them back b/c he kept finding tiny specks and faults, but I wouldn’t even worry about it – they were all good. And, they sell well for under a $1000.

2. Is upgrading to a USA model worth it for a non-professional?

Well, it is hard to say depending on what you are looking for. Can an intermediate player enjoy a $1000 guitar? You bet. If you have achieved something that you want to reward yourself for and you can – go for it, life is short. The only thing I believe is that, if you at all can, don’t get a super low line cheap guitar because they are hard to play, most don’t stay in tune and it is easy to get discouraged. So, I keep talking about that $1000 Professional Jackson because to me it is a cool happy medium of a well made guitar that is not uber expensive. But, if USA Randy Rhoads is what you really want, and you know it deep inside, then, I definitely would not discourage anyone. They are the ultimate monster instruments that withstand anything you throw at them.

With all of the above, new gear is fun and always will be. New gear high fades fast though and you already know that the lasting change in your playing is learning something new and sticking with it. Nicer gear, better effects or amps is like the icing on the cake of who you are as a player. It is certainly important and of value, but it must be used in conjunction with practicing and committment to getting better on the guitar.

Above all, lots of awesome guitars out there. One of my favorite guitars to pick-up and jam is my $649 Ibanez RG750 (Original 80’s) and sometimes I even noodle around on a Charvel that I stole (not literally, though) at a Guitar Center sale for $99. They all work and are fun.

Of course, my ultimate concert and recording guitar that I love is the USA made Randy Rhoads. I play them stock.

The only thing I ever do over time is to replace some Floyd Rose pieces with titanium parts and a bigger block (in the cavity behind the pickups where the springs attach to) for longer sustain. I have done this to 2 of my guitars so far and the rest of my RRs are completely stock.

Exercising Agressive Patience

What is aggressive patience?

Let’s apply this to getting better on your instrument. In short, this unofficial term means staying focused while chipping away at the stone and not expecting the returns on your work to happen overnight.

Let’s face it, as humans, we are pretty impatient. We want everything today. But, this is not a way to approach getting better on your instrument or anything else.

Be patient while constantly chiseling away at practice, new techniques or whatever else. It takes belief and faith in that things will eventually happen, which is also a great thing to have in your arsenal. It’s the compounded work over the months (or, even years depending on what you are trying to do) that eventually brings success.

When you are too close to it – it is hard to gauge progress. If you think think this happened differently to Steve Vai, Zakk or Dimebag you are mistaken.

Keep going. \m/ \m/

Distorted Reality – A Few Pointers On Using Overdrive And Distortion Pedals

Today, I want to talk about Overdrives and Distortion pedals because I feel some players are still confused about this a little bit.

I guess I’ll start to say that I never used a Distortion pedal in its true sense of the word. In order to get a good use out of a distortion pedal, you would have to play through a clean amp as the pedal adds just that – lots of distortion.

Since I use an amp that has an overdrive built in already (as I am sure all of you guys do as well), I choose to go with an Overdrive. What separates an Overdrive from the Distirtion pedal, is that the Overdrive gives your sound that little extra, that sweet boost needed for chunky tight rhythms and signing leads without throwing a ton and ton of gain on your amp. It works differently from a Distortion pedal. You can think of it as a milder version of a Distortion, although this is not exactly it, either.

If I plugged in a Distortion pedal in front of my head, the sound would be way overdriven and saturated. Not a good thing.

Here is how I use the Overdive to get a good sound and I’m pretty sure that most pro players do something in the ballpark.

When I play through a Marshall head (or, any high gain head or a combo) that already has a decent amount of gain, I leave the gain on the head at just about anywhere between 7 and 8.5. I don’t make the head work 100%.

In front of it, I run an Overdrive pedal which is always a Maxon OD-9. (Maxon OD-9 is closely associated with an Ibanez Tube Screamer, so if you are familiar with that pedal, then you might know what I’m referring to) But, any good Overdrive works depending on your taste. In the past, I also used the classic yellow Boss SuperOverdrive and Maxon OD808 which is very similar to the OD-9, but with less bass and more straight cut.

On the Maxon Overdrive, I keep the Gain/Overdrive just at around 10:30/11:00 O-Clock, Tone straight up at 12 and the Level pretty much just like the tone at 10:30/11. No matter what I’m using amp wise, this Overdrive setting works just as good. If the amp’s gain is weak, I might crank up the gain on the pedal.

So, amp’s gain not full tilt and you use the Overdrive to warm up/hot rod the sound. As you can see, I do not make any component work full tilt, which I think helps keep things in check.

See how it works for you. Of course, there can be variations of this depending on amps, guitars, style, etc., but this is pretty sure-fire way to get a cool sound.

In case anyone wants to know how my pedalboard looks like, it is also very simple.

Guitar goes into my pedals in this order:

1. Boss TU-2 Tuner

2. Dunlop Q95 Wah (This Wah is automatically turned on when you step on it. As soon as you take your foot off – it automatically switches off. I like that, because sometimes I don’t have time to worry about clicking it On/Off. It also has a button for 4db boost which is great for solos)

3. Maxon OD-9 Overdrive

4. Some sort of Chorus (Often a Maxon, or a simple Boss Super Chorus). Sometimes I bypass this step all together.

5.Boss NS-2 Noise Supressor, but if my rig is quiet, I even bypass that.

Any delay runs through the effects loop in the head. For the delay, I use a simple Boss Digital Delay stomp box. Many people are suprised when they hear me say that, but that Boss Delay pedal sounds good to me and I just leave it alone.

This is all fairly simple, to the point approach and I always think that the less stuff I got going on, the better the result.

How To Be A Better Guitar Player

How To Be A Better Guitar Player …

This must be one of the most common questions I get asked.

But, in general terms, my answer is always true and simple. Invest in your learning. Invest in your abilities. Attend classes, workshops, take lessons and don’t be afraid to hang with players that are further along than you are.

Don’t spend all of your money on gear to “improve”. This is a cheap way out and never works. This reminds of the golf guys who spend double for a ball that goes 5% further. These small percentages only matter after you have put in the time, when it makes sense to spend for that little extra.

Remember: new gear gets old fast – new material on the guitar stays with you for a long time. Ask yourself – how committed am I to really get better? And, do my current actions and routines support that? You already know the answer, I suspect. And, practice.

Can You Learn How To Play The Guitar Via You Tube?

I hear quiet a bit of chatter about guitarists learning things by watching instructional videos on You Tube. Let’s face it – You Tube is full of amazing information and many guitar instructors strut their stuff all over the net. Heck, even my “Metal For Life” instructional videos have been seen by close to 4 million people.

It can be fun watching a snippet of a new guitar idea and then taking it even further or taking the challenge of learning something new note per note.

There is one ceveat. That is a lack of a bigger plan and constructive feedback.

It is hard to get amazing on the guitar by jumping from one video to another.

A student is unaware of what he or she doesn’t yet know. This is not always the case, but often is. Students will also spend a lot more time watching videos on the things they like and less on videos that focus on their weaknesses.

So, although it is certainly helpful and indeed possible to get very good on your instrument by watching You Tube lessons – you can speed up the process quiet a bit by studying with an experienced teacher who can present you with a program or a plan to help you build all aspects of your playing.

A good teacher will also give you extremely valuable feedback on your playing. It is sometimes very difficult to be objective about your playing simply because you are too inside of it. It is hard to step back, be honest and hear yourself with a “different” set of ears. This is what great teachers are for.

So, if I had to give some advice for best and fastest results – I’d recommend both. Learn all you can from You Tube and find a great guitar teacher that is truly interested in teaching you.