“Gear Head Bangs!”, Gig 1

Today is a special day here at SeriousGas.com, and not only because it’s Valentine’s Day, the worldwide day of LOVE, desire and knee-trembling fulfillment…

It’s also a new day for G.A.S.-y comedy!!

Get your Phil’ of Laughter

I’d like to introduce my good friend Philippe Stuart to you all. 

He’s an exceptionally creative soul and a wonderful visual artist. I first discovered his talents at the fitness center we both work at, and have been more and more impressed the more I see of his works.

Soon, he’ll have his own website to share his incredibly detailed paintings and drawings, but for right now… we’re gonna showcase his creations here!

Ha-Ha-Haow about some MORE GEAR?!

Our new goal together is to create all-new bits of “Gear-Love” comic laughs, in honor of our shared affinity for music gear and instruments. Philippe has a quick and erudite wit, so finding just the right visuals to tip us into ROFL peeks into  communal equipment lust takes him little effort.

That said, we all at SeriousGas thank him for his excellent contributions to our site, and to G.A.S. sufferers everywhere. I know you’re gonna wanna tune in whenever he drops a new cartoon pane that feels our pain…

Get your P

And now… without further adieu… 

I introduce to you the very FIRST installment of…

“Gear-Head-Bangs!”

(Drop the mic)  LOL

Teaj

“Sweet Love”

My Kala Ukulele – Play That 6-Pack On The Beach Song!!

If today’s title has you thinking of crackin’ open a cold one in a hammock under a shady palm on a sandy white beach somewhere next to the rolling, rhythmic, waving ocean, well… there’s nothing wrong with that! 

But it’s not what I meant. LoL

I’m talkin’ about what many of us aspire to that’s located around our own personal “naval academy”…

I’m talkin’… ABS of STEEL!!

Why do I want to play a song about being super-FIT on my Kala ukulele?? Ahhh, therein lies a tale…

Work it, baby!

Because of the economic downturn of 2008, a lot has changed… for MANY of us.

“Music Corner” in my office!

I, for example, have taken on a great position at a local fitness spa due to the departure of the music and acting/film work that used to be here in the Detroit region.

I’m an avid runner, so it’s a good fit for me.

Being the type of guy who incorporates music into pretty much everything I do, my methods at the Club have proven no different. Pretty much everybody I’ve spent time with there has heard me play a song.

And most of the time… it’s on my Kala ukulele!

I chose it for two good reasons:

  1. The uke is small and doesn’t take up much room in my office, and
  2. No one can resist the urge to smile and feel good when someone is playing uke in front of them!

Both have proven to be true, so much so that I’m asked all the time to play it for any & every possible celebratory reason the upper management can come up with.

In short – I’m the go-to music dude.

Where I lock up the Kala each night, safe and SOUND! lol

The fact that the uke also quickly and effectively lowers defenses and puts people in a great mood also REALLY helps my bottom line. Simply put, when people are in a good mood… they spend more!! LOL

So, yea, my Kala uke shall always remind me of endless conversations about fitness, health, exercise and striving for that elusive 6-pack…

… the one that you CAN’T get in the “Chains” section at Target! 😉

Spec’ it!

Let’s first take a look at what this fine uke consists of…

The Kala KA-FMTG Tenor Ukulele Specs:

SIZE: Tenor

TOP: Solid Sitka Spruce

BACK & SIDES: Spalted Maple

BINDING: Maple

SOUNDHOLE ROSETTE: Abalone

NECK: Mahogany

FRETS: 18

FINISH: Gloss

FINGERBOARD: Laurel? Walnut? Rosewood?? It’s been made with all of ’em!

INLAY: Dots

HEADSTOCK: Standard

TUNERS: Die cast chrome, sealed & geared

STRINGS: Aquila Super Nylgut®

BRIDGE: Rosewood

ELECTRONICS: N/A

NUT & SADDLE: Graph Tech NuBone®

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China

Measurements:

Overall Instrument Length: 26.125″

Scale Length: 17″

Body Length: 11.75″

Number of Frets: 18″

Width at Upper Bout: 7″

Width at Lower Bout: 9.125″

Width at Waist: 5.5″

Body Depth: 3.12″

Fingerboard Width at Nut: 1.39″

Fingerboard width at neck/body joint: 1.8″

Watch it!

If we take a look at just the visual appeal of this FMTG model by Kala, it immediately says, “I’m not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill ukulele!

The wood on it is beautiful. It is Spalted Maple. “Spalted” is just a fancy word for the dark grain ribbons that emphasize where the wood has started to decompose, actually.

But fear not! It’s not going to stink or break apart from age! It’s strong, solid and much more interesting pattern-wise than new, fresh, still-growing Maple. Or at least I think so.

Now for a little controversy…

(Buckle up… it’s about to be a throw-down!!)

If you follow THIS LINK to the description of this model as it’s being sold TODAY, you’ll notice it says that it’s made of “Flame Maple”.

Sorry, but no. There’s no way that’s flamed Maple. Not even close.

I own the instrument, plus I’ve looked at all the pictures in all ads for this instrument online, every store I could think of, so I think I can say, with good authority, that the back and sides look nothing like Flame Maple at all. They are clearly SPALTED Maple.

Even the KALA WEBSITE HERE shows that it’s clearly Spalted.

To give you some idea of how to tell the difference between Spalted and Flamed Maple, let’s use pictures.

First up is a REAL Flamed Maple Uke, also made by Kala:

And here’s another flamed maple uke, this time made by Ibanez:

Now here’s a close-up of the spalted wood sides on the Kala KA-FMTG:

See the difference? It’s pretty obvious, right?? So don’t be fooled by some who are selling this instrument and calling it “flamed Maple”. It’s not. You can see for yourself.

Another way to tell the difference is price: spalted Maple is pretty easy to find, comparatively. It’s just dying Maple trees! And since there are a lot of those in the world at any given time, the price point of the instrument shouldn’t be that high.

But Flamed Maple?? That’s much more rare. To cut a growing Maple open and find the wet, dappling appearance of “flames” inside only happens in about 3 in 100 trees. That’s why we always pay more MONEY for true flamed Maple.

Check out a more detailed description of it in THIS POST by Ed Roman Guitars. Nice research, Ed!!

Science hasn’t figured out yet what environmental conditions cause “flaming” to happen (if it even IS environmental), but one thing’s sure: the better-looking the pattern, the higher the price. The best flamed Maple wood is often priced at 3 to 4 TIMES the cost of normal Maple!!

Which is probably why the striking PRS Electric guitar seen below sold for just under TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!!

Would YOU pay more for FLAMED MAPLE??


With all that flaming controversy behind us though, the thing to really remember about this uke, despite its (to me at least) false advertising, is that it’s really beautiful, classy, unique and an especially tasteful, elegant approach to having fun with ukulele music.

Whatever you wanna call it, that wood is GORGEOUS!!

Hear it!

If we’re talkin’ tone, I’d don’t think I’d be able to find a better-sounding uke in any other brand in this price range. It projects well (for an ukulele!), and charms the listener with its clear, tropical whimsy and un-muddled frequency response.

Because it’s a TENOR ukulele, it’s a few inches bigger than its cousins, the Soprano and the Concert ukes. That means you’re going to get a better bottom end out of it.

Is its bass response like a guitar’s? Heck, no. Too small a body. But FOR A UKE, it really projects well and provides a little more beef than usual.

How ’bout the sustain?

Well, I did a little test of how long my ukes kept ringing after I strummed a chord, and here are the results:

  • the Mike Franks Soprano Ukulele: 8 seconds
  • the Kohala Baritone Ukulele: 11 seconds
  • the Kala Tenor: 14 seconds!!

How ’bout them Hawaiian apples!!

I’m not surprised, since it’s top is made of Spruce wood, which, for centuries, has been the tone wood of choice for soundboards (the top piece of wood)… and not only for ukes, but especially for guitars of all makes and models!

Spruce always provides good volume and strong attack for an instrument’s tone. Plus, whenever you see its clear, bright color and look, remember that a big part of its historical appeal is that Spruce’s tone is known to only improve as years pass, making it a great instrument for the long-term, since it’ll only sound better with time!

Ukuleles as primarily high-pitched instruments don’t have a wide frequency range, but a Spruce top will certainly help all those high notes project better than other more dense, hard woods you could buy for less.

Ukulele Collection of Ukulele dude!
So many Ukes… so little time!!

Oh, and they didn’t put a ton of GLOSS on top of the Spruce either, which can deaden the sound. They kept it thin, and I think that’s why the wood “speaks” so well and has such great sustain.

Since electronics are absent in this model, you’ll need to watch who you play with and how. This uke will absolutely give you good volume when playing with other instruments…

… unless they’re electric! Then all bets are off and you’ll need to either install a pickup or, as I do, just put a mic in front of it leading to a P.A. system or amp.

And beware the electric guitar player’s volume knob!! BEWARE!!!! lol

In a coconut shell? This breezy little beach singer will capture the attentions of every surf-craving ear with its effortless sunshiny sounds and songs!!

Tune it!

One of the WORST things I’ve found in ukes over the years is the terrible tuning mechanisms. Even in higher-priced models, I’ve played them and within SECONDS, the tuning has changed yet again.

Very frustrating. And not how you want to spend your time playing.

Kala chose well for this instrument: the die-cast chrome tuners they chose for the FMTG really keep it in tune well!

I know this because just about every time I go to play it for a new customer or friend, I don’t have to adjust the tuning at all, and that says a lot.

Nice job, Kala!

Hold it!

One of the really cool things I like about this particular tenor uke is that I don’t need a strap to play it. Two reasons:

  1. It’s lightweight (unlike, say, a guitar) so it doesn’t want to fall that much, and
  2. How it rests on my body & it’s shape makes it sit and fit snugly and perfectly against my own voice-strengthening 6-pack.
CJ with Uke
My youngest son, rockin the Kala Uke!

(Well, OK, maybe not quite a 6-pack. I think I can make out, uh… two. LOL)

If you’re an adult player, you’ll be happy to know that tenor ukes tend to have a little more finger space than the smaller ukes.

If you have normal to larger-sized fingers this is a much better choice for you than, say, a Soprano. The fret spaces get smaller as the instruments do.

It can get to be like the “garbage masher” scene in Star Wars if you’re more Chewbacca-sized. 😉

Another addition that sets this particular uke apart from the rest in its price point is the inclusion of Fret Markers on the side of the neck.

Most ukes have these markers on top of the neck, but hardly any do on the side. These little visual reminders really help a beginner to learn about and get quickly to different positions on the neck.

Position-dots-on-uke-neck-side-
Fret markers!!

Finally, this puppy came from the factory with a great set up and ready to play. The action is EXCELLENT. Definitely the easiest uke to play that I’ve ever had. Kala obviously were meticulous about the construction and decisions concerning bridge, nut and neck options.

Definitely performance-ready, and with a sunny disposition to boot.

I know a lot of other musicians who could learn from that. LoL

Stand it!

I bought my Uke Stand way back when, before Amazon was the juggernaut that it’s become.

Mine comes from the Met Opera Shop and fits this uke PERFECTLY. It’s nice and snugly held by the arms, but not so much that I have any trouble getting it out. Couldn’t ask for a better fit.

Check that out HERE AT THIS LINK.

These days tho’, Amazon makes it easier, and cheaper. Because your uke doesn’t weigh much, it’s not prone to tip, so a simple stand like the one I use is just fine. Here’s Amazon’s version of it:

Now, if you’re playing live, then you would need something WAY more sturdy. For when that guitar player comes over to adjust his volume knob…

Case it!

If you’re gonna pay anything over $100 for ANY instrument, do yourself a favor and get a good case for it.

I learned the hard way that a “gig bag” is NOT enough if you’re playing out at all.

(A moment of silence, please, for my Jackson “Dinky” Electric guitar with a broken neck…)

I use TKL brand cases, since they have a lifetime 24/7 warranty program. When you’re touring & gigging, that’s important. If you’re doing that too, check out the TKL WEBSITE HERE.

If you don’t anything so industrial, guaranteed and, thus, expensive, then simply go with this “no name” case on Amazon for those of you who do NOT play out on gigs:

And this one by KNOX for those of you who’ve practiced enough such that now EVERYBODY wants to have your tropical flair onstage with them:

Either way, you’ll be protecting your investment. Trust me – in the long run, you’ll be glad you did!

Size it!

This is a Tenor Ukulele, so it’s on the larger end of the spectrum for size.

You can get other options that are smaller (the Concert and the Soprano size) if you really want even MORE of a Hawaiian ukulele sound.

The Ukulele Family!
The Ukulele Family!

I like the Tenor because it gives you the flavor of a ukulele but also resonates with more lower frequencies to widen the tonal palette over its little cousins.

As always, it’s horses for courses – decide what you’re gonna use it for mostly. If you want that instantly recognizable ukulele sound, get a “Concert Ukulele“.

But if you want something a little less bright, maybe a uke you could use in a band setting more, then a Tenor is a great option.

Or, better yet… be like me and buy ONE OF EACH!! You’ll LOVE THEM ALL!!!! lol

Buy it!

In Hawaiian pidgin, “kala” means money

I think when it comes to Kala brand ukuleles, “kala” means you’re saving it, not losing it. Kala brand ukuleles are awesome ukes for incredibly reasonable prices and I recommend them whole-heartedly.

Below are links to the places I buy from all the time that I trust implicitly: Amazon and Sam Ash. Since the price is the same for each, just pick your favorite, and soon… you’ll be in strum-happy heaven!

UKE IT!!!

With a full FIVE STARS rating on Amazon by those who’ve purchased it, it’s clear that we have a real winner here in the Kala Ukulele.

Best tenor uke for under $300?? It just might be!

I can certainly vouch for it. Love how it looks. Love how it plays. Smiles when it sounds!

Now I just gotta add some electronics to it so I can put it through a P.A. system on the beach and GET ALL THE PEOPLE DANCIN’!!! LoL

If you’re wanting a fuller-sounding ukulele that is NOT beginner-grade, but still won’t break the bank, the Kala FMTG is a fantastic choice. Get it, get some sun tan lotion, and the world’s beaches are your oyster!

With that, I say “Aloha kakou”, my friends!! Here’s hoping we play, sing and clink cold ones with our toes in the sand somewhere soon!

(And if you wanna show off your 6-pack abs with some tropical flair, well… go for it…

I’ll play my Kala while you flex.) LoL

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Drum Overhead Mic Placement – Snatchin’ Skins From All Angles!

My son came home from school with his buddies the other day, walked up to me and said, “Hey – play us some of those multi tracks!”

I knew just what he meant. I have a number of recorded multi-track versions of some awesome Classic Rock hits. They’re amazing to listen to…

Roger Taylor!! (Photo: Flominator)

Especially the drums! We often bring the other faders down so we can just hear them alone. I booted up “Bohemian Rhapsody” & played it for them. Oh, the glory of Roger Taylor!

Whenever I play those though, I wonder: “What drum overhead mic placement did they use??”

There are many ways to capture those thunderous skins in the studio. It can leave you uncertain if you’re not familiar with all the methods.

And even if you are familiar with them… that doesn’t mean you understand them well, or know what the best use of them are.

But fear not! Today, we’re going to examine all the ways I’ve ever used, and heard of, that will make your mic’ed kit sound amazing!

You ready?? Let’s rock!!!

Dermatologist-recommended!

First off, some friendly “skins” advice:

  1. No matter which method below you use for recording drums, none of them will produce good results if your mics suck. It’s imperative that you purchase mics that are (at least!) not noisy, are EQ’d appropriately for drum frequencies, and can handle the SPLs (Sound Pressure Levels) that drums throw at you.
  2. I’m not saying that these are the only methods to use for drum overheads. I’m just saying they’re the most popular. At the very least, they’re the methods I’VE used to sonic success in my own recording adventures.

And that counts for something. 😉

You can capture GREAT results from all of these. Which one do you choose? Well, that depends on what kind of percussive sonic landscape you want in the final mix.

I usually decide the Overhead Mic method based on the genre and type of song that’s brought to me, or that I write.

Finally, I have to think Bart Stevens and Wade Jaynes, former engineers at Schnee studios, who were the first ones to teach me all about overhead mic placement.

They, along with many other recording engineers and fellow musicians in my past, have all contributed to my knowledge of this art form.

Or is it a science?

Truth be told,…… I think it’s both.

X/Y or “Coincident Pair”

This is the method that was de facto approach we set up when I worked at Schnee Studios in L.A. It was always our starting point, and honestly… I never saw it changed.

(That doesn’t mean that, for some sessions for some Producers, that it wasn’t. I just never witnessed it changed to another configuration.)

If you’re just starting out and beginning to explore Overhead setups, start here. You’ll almost always get very usable result (if you use decent MICS, that is).

Coincident” just means that the mic capsules are close together.

Here your X/Y “how to”:

  • Put two mics on two separate boom mic stands next to each other (or use a stereo mic bracket).
  • Place the stand(s) such that the mics hover above the snare as you play. Sometimes I’ll also put them just behind and above my head and that produces good results too.
  • As you sit on the drum throne, the mic on your RIGHT side should be angled toward the LEFT side of your kit. The mic on your LEFT side should be angled toward the RIGHT side of your kit. This produces a “V” shape, with the top of the two mics at around a 90-degree angle from each other.
  • The HEIGHT of the mics should be such that they don’t point beyond the kit (picking up too much room), or so close that the whole kit isn’t dynamically balanced and even when you hear it. I find 6 & a half feet to do it for me, but I’ve got a large kit. YMMV.

PROS:

Clear kit sound. Nothing should end up sounding “muffly” or “tinny” or at dynamic extremes with this set up.

Good mono compatibility. This is because the phase correlation in X/Y is exceptionally balanced. To verify this, sum the kit to mono. You should find no sign of being “out of phase” (signal droppage due to wave cancellation). If you know your mix will be played on a single speaker in many venues, this would be a good choice.

Easy setup. This is especially true if you buy THIS STEREO MIC BRACKET that I use in all my sessions).

Perfect sound for “supporting role”. Choose this technique when the drums aren’t really going to be highlighted. They’re there, but not a focal point. The balance will serve you well.

CONS:

Medium stereo image. If you want your kit to S – P – R – E – A – D more in the mix, this is not your best alternative. But if a standard, tight Pop mix is what you need, go no further… this IS the droid you’re looking for! lol

Finally, if you wanna play around and explore a bit with this method, try increasing or decreasing the ANGLE of the mics in relation to each. MORE than 90-degrees should give you a wider stereo image. LESS than 90 will probably sound more direct, and narrower.

Spaced, or “A/B”, Pair

Another very common method of overhead mic placement is the Space, or A.B., pair. Basically, you’ve got one mic for the left side, and one mic over the right.

PROS:

WIDE kit sound. With the mics being quite far apart, you’ll naturally get significantly different areas of the kit picked up. This equals a more spread out impression.

Easy setup.
Two mics. Two boom stands. End of story.

Perfect sound for more “in your face” drum arrangements. Choose this technique when the drums need to be heard. Or at least not hidden.

CONS:

Uncertain mono compatibility. You’ll have to be much more vigilant about phase issues in this technique.

Use your ears and make sure, before you press record, that you’ve tested for phase. If your mic capsules are equidistant from the snare drum there shouldn’t be a problem.

Confirm this by getting out your measuring tape and verifying the numbers. Put one end of the tape in the center of the snare drum, and stretch it out to both mics. If the distance is the same, you’re in business.

Also, you’ll need to make sure that the distance of the mics from your kit is allowing a balanced impression to be heard. You MAY have to hit your CYMBALS lighter with this method, as your mics will be closer to them, AND close to the same height.

Typically, you’ll find with the A/B pairing that toms will be louder on one side and the snare and hi hat will definitely be louder on the other side. This is natural; it’s how you hear them with your ears! But if you don’t like that discrepancy, go to another method.

The higher above the drum kit you go, the more room sound you’ll get. But it won’t ever be like the Mid/Side method at least!

Where you point the mic is also going to really make a difference in the final sound. The mic on your left should really be pointed at the snare. The one to the right I usually fudge between the kick and the floor tom.

What works better for your kit?? Liiiiiisten and you’ll find out. Remember: I I S G, I I G!

(If It Sounds Good, It Is Good!)

Oh, and I find if I’m going to use this technique I switch from pencil, small-condenser mics to a couple large-condenser mics instead. Gives me… I dunno, just more depth. And really helps the kick to come out more.

Finally, if your mics allow for it, switching from a hyper-cardiod or super-cardioid polar pattern to something wider, like Cardioid or Omni, will give you and even BIGGER sound.

I recommend if you go Omni though, that you use a Jecklin Disk to provide the best focus and “shadow” for both mics. Buy one HERE for an arm and a leg, or check out this video to see how make your own!… MUCH more inexpensively:

As always… watch for wave gremlins and check your Phase. Those beasts will curdle your audio milk!!!

Mid-Side

Next, we come to a method that will deliberately be listening to your room ambiance!

So, if the room you’re using to record drums in is, well… not that great, you’ll want to probably skip this method. But then again, isn’t everything audio worth trying? At LEAST once??

The only demand this set up makes on your studio is that one of your mics MUST be a FIGURE-8 mic! Without that kind of mic, you won’t be able to properly capture a Mid-Side recording.

The Figure-8 mic will be picking up, almost exclusively, the REFLECTED SOUND of your kit.

Here your Mid-Side “how to”:

  • Place a Cardioid mic TEN FEET out or so OUT from your drum kit. Point its capsule right at the snare.
  • Place a FIGURE-8 MIC above or below the other mic. Turn it so it’s 90-degrees off axis (facing the SIDES instead of the drum kit!).
  • The HEIGHT of the mics is usually a foot or so above where your cymbals sit. But as always, try different heights and see what most brings YOUR kit to life.

That’s it! Not much to it. Now you COULD also add in a close-mic on the kick and snare (I do), but that allows for even more phase issues, so don’t go there unless you know what you’re doing! 😉

Your Center channel mic you’ll pan right to center. This will cancel our any phase issues when you bring the other mic in.

After recording your Figure-8 mic onto one channel, you will then copy that waveform, paste it onto a SECOND channel and flip it out of phase.

Then, panning them hard right and hard left, you end up with a cool-sounding, but still out-of-phase, drum sound. We’ll call these two channels the “Sides“.

Ahhhh, but when you bring UP the Center channel mic (the Cardioid that we pointed right AT the kit), all problems are resolved and we have a very rich, interesting percussion sub-mix!

PROS:

Don’t need “Matched Pair” mics. In fact, with this technique, the two mics can be COMPLETELY different, and it can produce excellent results. In my studio, I use one Avantone CK-1 mic and my AT4050 for the Figure-8! If you DO use the same mics, however, you’ll find their LEVELS to be much more in line with each other.

Ensures mono compatibility. For the same reasons as X/Y.

Easy setup. Shouldn’t take long IF you are familiar with this technique of recording drums.

Ability to alter “width” of kit sound at mixdown. By bringing the AMOUNT of the Figure-8 left & right signal up, or down, you can cut or boost the perceived “width” of the kit, and/or how much of the ROOM you want in the final sound. Talk about flexibility!

CONS:

Medium + stereo image. Just like X/Y, this will give you generally more “medium” kit sound size. The difference from X/Y though is that you’ll be able to dial IN more room, or width, with the two channels of the figure 8 mic.

Watch it though, because the more of the room sound you dial in, the more indistinct and less direct-sounding your drums will be. Adjust your faders to the song, as always.

Finally, to make it easy to process at mixdown, I always bus the two side channels to their own separate stereo bus. Doing that allows you to adjust the two Side Channels, and thus the perceived stereo width, with just one fader. Nice!

ORTF! WTF?!

At first glance, you may think I just texted “Rolling On The Floor Laughing” too fast.

If only! That one little juxtaposing of the first two letters gives us something totally different… and you may not think it’s that funny.

Try THIS title on for size: “Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française“.

Small wonder they switched to just using the acronym ORTF – I studied French and even I THINK that’s awkward & unwieldy!!

Regardless, over the great Atlantic, that French broadcasting company stumbled upon this re-tweaking (what they deemed an improvement) of the X/Y method we looked at earlier. They were supposedly going for the distance a human has between two ears. They figured it might sound the technique WE hear naturally.

Guess it worked! Other countries heard about the technique and soon we had yet another studio tool to keep in our audio toolbox (which, for me, has a Van Halen sticker on it. LOL).

It’s actually not that much different. Specifically cardioid microphone capsules are still angled about the same, & pointing in the same general area.

The difference is that, instead of the capsules being side-by-side, almost touching like in X/Y, the top of the mics are exactly

6.7″ (17cm) spaced apart. AND the mics are angled AWAY from each other at a 110-degree angle.

Looks like this:

PICTURE

Sometimes you’ll also hear this referred to as the “Side-Other-Side” configuration.

PROS:

Kit spread sounds wider than X/Y. This is, obviously, dependent on your success in setting it up correctly, but generally speaking you’ll get a bigger side-to-side impression with the ORTF set up, but without losing the important center of the kit.

Tends to “hear” less ambient room sound. This certainly depends on how close or far from the kit you place the mics, but, all things equal, you’ll get less room ambiance than X/Y. The further away, the more kit blend, but also the higher the risk of “room bleed”.

Can produce mono-compatibility. For the same reasons as X/Y… IF done right.

Easy setup. Two mics again. We’re not building Rome here.

Can use the same microphone mounts as X/Y Method. You’d just swing them away from each other instead of towards each other.

CONS:

Can cause comb filtering. Because the mic capsules are farther away from each other than in X/Y, you’ve got more of a chance to botch it when it comes to Phase. But, really, with careful measuring, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Works best with matched pairs, or at least the identical type & model. Not a hard and fast rule, but whenever I record this technique I use both my CV-1 mics for the job. But then… I absolutely LOVE those mics, so… no surprise there.

So… IS it an improvement?? Maybe. Depends on what you’re after.

If done right, this set up can absolutely make a kit sound pretty dang sweet. Of course, it always helps if you start with the best SOURCE, like playing a DW Ivory Ebony 7-piece Collector’s Kit!

Sorry… little gear lust there… 😉

Though this method tends to work best at close distances, the distance, angles and spacing can always be tweaked to make it optimized for YOUR drum set, with YOUR specific room acoustics. The approach should always be… set it up as diagrammed, then adjust to taste.

Recorderman

No, it’s not a new super hero in the Marvel Comic book world.

(Tho’, actually… that would be pretty cool!)

This drum overhead method was created in 2003 in a session for the band ‘Hazy Malaise” at the Village Recorders studio in L.A. The engineer for them, Eric Greedy, pitched an idea to his producer, Eric “Mixerman” Sarafin, that he wanted to try.

Mr. Sarafin agreed, and the session tracks turned out GREAT. Since the Producer was known as “Mixerman”, he said,”Hey, Greedy… you should be “Recorderman”!”

And thus not only an Overhead Mic technique, but also a nickname and method name was born!!

The goal was to have the Kick and Snare sit squarely in CENTER of the stereo field when listening to two overhead mics.

The big surprise tho’ is that they also used a snare mic AND a kick mic as booster mics. It was never intended to be only a 2-mic technique.

Also, this is the perfect method to use when the drummer plays in an expertly BALANCED technique. If they play the cymbals too loud, or hit the snare or Hi-Hat technique too hard compared to the rest of the kit, stay away from Recorderman. It will probably not give you the best results.

Here your Recorderman “how to”:

  • Place one Cardioid mic above your snare drum. Some say 32″. Others say just the distance of two drumsticks. Use what works for you. Point the mic capsule right at the snare.
  • Place the other Cardioid mic close to your drummers right shoulder. also 32″ from your snare. Point its capsule right at the kick.
  • Check that the DISTANCE of the mics from the KICK drum is also the same.

The quickest, easiest technique to do that last measurement, is to:

Guy Sternberg and Florian von Keyserlingk, in Berlin, Germany, measuring for the “Recorderman” technique!
  1. Clamp down on the end of a mic cable, or bit of long string if you have it, using the kick drum beater. Just keep your foot down so the cable or string stays held by the beater.
  2. Pull the cable/string up to the overhead mic.
  3. Hold the cable string there at the overhead mic, or run it over a finger, and bring the rest of it down to the middle of the snare head. Hold that end in place on the snare.
  4. Now that you have a kind of “A” shape, with both ends secured, gently move the top of your “A” over to the other mic (the over-the-right-shoulder mic). Keep it taut. If it’s too close, or too far away, move the mic so it’s exactly at the top of the “A” shape.


That’s it! Now you’ll have a good overview of your kit sonically, with little phase smearing. Pan the two mics hard left & right, unless you hear a kind of “hole” in the middle of the kit. Then lessen the Pan spread. Choose what sits best in your mix.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out Charlie’s comprehensive look at how to get everything in place… including your HAIR, in this vid’:

PROS:

Only two mics needed. Haven’t got a large mic locker?? No problem. This’ll give you a good sound.

Avoids mono phase issues in kick & snare. IF you measure right. No slacking. 😉

Keeps kick & snare dead in the middle of the sonic image. Shouldn’t take long IF you are familiar with this technique of recording drums.

Little “Room Sound”. If you want a kit sound that really focuses on the snare, kick and toms, this is a great choice.

A quick fix for “Cymbal BASHERS”! Since the mics are lower than usual, the cymbals volume will be attenuated more than in the other techniques. If a given drummer is just hitting the cymbals technique too hard, try this method. It’ll soothe his savage beast mode in the recording!

CONS:

Matched pair or same mic model is preferable. Otherwise the two halves of the kit will sound different. You CAN, however, get away with different mics. Sound good? Then it is good.

Phase issues on the rest of the kit possible: You may get some smearing in the cymbals or toms tho’. Keep your ears open.

As we saw in Charlie’s video above, you CAN introduce other mics too. Just remember every time you do… you’re playing with sonic Phase Phire… don’t get burned!!

Head-to-Head

So, let’s construct a little cheat sheet here, based on what we’ve learned, that will be our go-to guide for drum kit mic’ing issues:

WIDEST kit sound: A/B

Flexibility at Mixdown: Mid-Side

Best for attenuating cymbal volume: Recorderman

Best Phase Coherence: Mid-Side or X/Y

Strongest, most present Snare & Kick: Recorderman

Balanced Kit Blend: X/Y

Aaaaand… that’s IT!

Well, actually… not really.

There are endless methods for drum overhead mic placement, so don’t think that the methods above are your ONLY options.

But they are the ones that are the most talked about, and that have certainly produced good results on huge-selling, hit-laden albums.

Try different methods for yourself. Move mics around and listen. Create your own perfect pairing!

Who knows? You just might end up discovering a method that will be talked about in THIS POST one day! 😉

Now, go… make… (DRUM) sounds!!

Teaj

The Martin Anniversary Guitar – Gettin’ Spacey With My OWN Oumuamua!

Several billion years ago… a massive, powerful explosion in space occurred.

It scattered hot cosmic shrapnel in all directions…

Cold, primordial shards hurtling towards staggeringly distant star systems…

Carina Nebula

… and it tumbled its way… TO US!!

What does this celestial body’s immense trek have to do with a Martin Anniversary Guitar??

Read on, ye music-making Earthling… !

Stage 1: The Mission Plan

I had a big concert of my own material coming up this past summer, at a sweet venue, and I decided I needed…

My (formerly!) two best acoustics!

… what else??! A new GUITAR!!!

(Big, important concerts seem to ALWAYS provoke a bout of serious Gear Acquisition Syndrome!!! LoL)

Because this concert would be filmed AND digitally recorded, I knew that I needed to play guitars that sounded better than any I’ve ever played.

The only question was: how could I accomplish this??

The first thing I did was to play the same couple tunes upon every acoustic guitar that I owned (around ten of ’em).

After that, it was pretty evident that my Mike Franks acoustic (examined HERE) and my Ibanez Exotic Wood guitar (see my article on it HERE) had the best overall sound and responsiveness. That was no surprise, really, since they are the ones I usually grab whenever I want to play!

Joe Walsh playing an Ibanez EW
Joe Walsh playing an Ibanez EW (Courtesy)

The Franks guitar I had hand-crafted towards my own specifications though, and it was made to be a “recording guitar”, and not one that had the stronger, more bass-enriched tone I need for LIVE playing.

So, the choice was clear – Joe Walsh & I have the Ibanez for a reason… it’s a great-sounding, and killer-looking, acoustic!!

Stage 2: Comparison

Just a SpaceX has been testing, comparing and vetting rocket parts and technology for the last decade or more, so I needed to also compare my best “audio ship” with all the rest out there.

It was the only way I could truly step up my audio game. ‘Cuz, you know… it’s about that SOUND, baby!

So, with my Ibanez EW in hand, I headed out to Guitar Center. My main man Scott, in the Guitars Department, did me a solid by unlocking quite a few of the more expensive guitars that were cordoned off in a separate room.

“Only the brave of wallet may enter here! Penny-pinchers, BEWARE!!!” 😉

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it took me well over an hour to finally find a guitar that sounded better than the one I had.

(Photo: Alessio Bragadini)

I must’ve played at least 30 guitars. Probably upwards of 50. I’d play my Ibanez first, then play the same thing on another axe.

Time after time… I was disappointed.

Stage 3: the Discovery!

Full Frontal!!

But then, it happened! It was a sudden, immediate, insanely-surprising departure from all the other “ho-hum” guitars I had put through their paces. I picked up a Martin “Grand Performance” 20th Anniversary guitar and began to play.

And the difference? It was slap-my-face incredible!!

As soon as I coaxed the first notes and chords out of this Martin acoustic, it was immediately apparent that it was blowing away everything else I had played that day.

This is one impressive guitar. So much more the surprise too since… it was NOT among the most expensive. I played acoustics in there that were upwards of two GRAND and they didn’t sound as good.

But wait – I realized that I had only played it acoustically. What about the electronics?? I thought to myself, “Yea, that’s probably where it’ll suck.”

So I plugged the high-quality 1/4″ Monster cable I had brought with me into the little mixer there, plugged in my Ibanez, and played a couple riffs and chord sequences from my tunes.

Then, expecting a let-down, I plugged in the Martin instead, and strummed.

Stage 4: the SOUND!

“DUDE!!! YEEEEESSSSSS!!!!”

The way this Martin spoke through the sound system was, headstock-to-strap-pin, superior in every sense. It was captivating. Nuance-enhancing. Even. Perfectly balanced EQ-wise. Rich and attractive-sounding.

I noticed that it sang technique subtleties like it was speaking and understanding my own personal musical language. It made all my other acoustic purchases before that sound like stuttering, stumbling newbs!!

In short, I was blown away.

All the acoustics I then A/B’d with it… sounded pathetic in comparison. Even my Ibanez EW suddenly was missing a presence, and large swaths of frequencies, by comparison.

Remember too, that this was on a tiny, little acoustic amp that Guitar Center had in that room. I could only imagine how amazing it was gonna sound zippin’ through the Bose system, worth thousands, the night of my concert!!

I’d done it. I’d improved my tone immensely. I’d found… my new best stage friend!

The GPCX1AE – an Acoustic ROCKET!

Here’s the specs rundown of this remarkable instrument:

That’s one beautiful backside!

Body

  • Name: Martin X-Series “Grand Performance” 20th Anniversary GPCX1AE Acoustic Guitar
  • Body type: Grand Performance
  • Cutaway: Yes, at 14th fret
  • Top wood: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Back & sides: Macassar Ebony wood HPLs (high-pressure laminates)
  • Bracing pattern: Sitka
    5/16″ Scalloped, with 1/4″ Tone Bars, X-braced
  • Body finish: Hand-Rubbed Top
  • Pickguard: Black
  • Rosette: Mother-of-pearl pattern w/ Multi-Stripe

Neck

  • Neck shape: Performing Artist with High Performance Taper
  • Nut width: 1-3/4″
  • Fingerboard: Morado (Bolivian Rosewood)
  • Neck wood: Select Hardwood
  • Scale length: 25.4″
  • Number of frets: 14 clear of the body, 20 total
  • Neck finish: Hand-rubbed Satin
  • Neck width @ 1st fret: 1 3/4”
  • Neck width @ 12th fret: 2 1/8”
  • Neck circumference @ 1st fret: 4.5”
  • Neck circumference @ 3rd fret: 4 5/8”
  • Neck circumference @ 12th fret: 5”

Electronics

  • Pickup/preamp: Yes
  • Brand: Fishman Sonitone Electronics
  • Configuration: Soundhole-mounted preamp
  • Preamp EQ: 1-band
  • Feedback filter: No
  • Tuner: No

Other

  • Headstock overlay: Not specified
  • Tuning machines: Chrome Enclosed Gold Gear
  • Bridge: Morado
  • Saddle & nut: Compensated White Tusq, White Corian
  • Number of strings: 6
  • Special features:
  • Accessories: None
  • Case: Sold separately
  • Country of origin: Mexico

Stage 5: String Theory

As soon as I got my new Martin Guitar home, I took the strings off that Guitar Center had on her.

I then oiled the guitar neck with my favorite orange oil, polished her up well, and put on my choice of new strings: the Ernie Ball “Paradigm” phosphor bronze acoustic strings.

I had found in playing electric guitar that the Ernie Ball “Paradigm” strings had MONSTER tone, and a powerful low-end that always stayed present, but never got muddy.

They became, through my test (which you can read about AND hear by going HERE) my go-to strings for playing electric guitar LIVE) my go-to strings for playing electric guitar LIVE.

So I figured I go the same route for acoustic. In the past, I’d always used Elixir “Nanoweb” strings for my acoustics, but I felt like they just weren’t giving me the “oomph” I needed, tho’ they did keep good time for a loooooong time, which is nothing to sneeze at. 😉

Once the Paradigm strings were put on this Martin, it sounded even better. And that’s saying something!

Stage 6: Mission Parameters

After letting it sit for a whole day to let the strings sink into their tuning, I returned and started testing it for the gig.

Martin inner badge

Would it stand up to the rigors of audio and technique I’d put it through??

The way I did this was to actually perform every song through my sound system, with each guitar I’d use, and singing through the exact mic I’d use that night (the Shure GLX-D Wireless Headset mic).

Every time I played the Martin for a song (as my ‘standard tuning’ guitar) I sounded the best I’d ever heard. I couldn’t believe the EQ and responsiveness of this guitar for the price I paid, which was less than $700!!

Tho’ non-musicians won’t “get” this, you and I both know how much having “the right tool for the job” can make the difference. If we, as the players, are inspired by how our instruments sound… how much more will the audience be??

Stage 7: We Have Lift-off!!

Finally the night of my concert came and my Martin acoustic did indeed give a “grand performance”.

Every song sounded great. The Bose sound system at 20 Front Street, the venue for the concert, really brought my guitar & I to life.

Teaj in concert

With just a skosh of reverb that the sound guy put on my voice and the Martin, the overall sound performance was my best yet; I don’t think my voice/instrument combination has ever sounded so balanced, so complementary… so good!!

(I know this, by the way, ‘cuz I have the recordings. Can’t wait to share those with you soon!)

There are a couple other things I really liked about this guitar playing live that I need to mention:

1) All the seams on the guitar are ROUNDED, instead of being 90° sharp. I really like this. The guitar didn’t dig into my front or side as acoustics can do. It just felt more comfortable.

2) This is the first guitar that I’ve ever bought that doesn’t have a gloss finish. I have to say, I think I’m I’ve come to prefer the more natural feel of real wood, without all the gloss on top of it.

It doesn’t feel slippery. Instead, it feels, well… like real wood. It’s been sanded… but not too much. You can still feel a “wood-y” texture on it that I really like.

3) Also, the electronics of the instrument were clean, easy to reach during performance, and interpreted all the frequencies the guitar was putting out quite transparently, even when I got to heavy strumming.

4) The “High Performance Taper” neck on this beauty is helpful for playing up and down the neck, as I do. The fingerboard width starts at 1-3/4” width at the nut, then expands to 2-1/8” width at the 12th fret. Great for upper soloing or high chord shapes.

But the BIG difference I had to get used to immediately is the back-of-the-neck shoulders – they’re MUCH beefier than any acoustic I own, or have played.

What that means is you notice a lot more wood in your palm down near the nut. Like how a Tele feels bulkier than a Strat, to use an electric simile.

As you go UP the neck, however, these ‘full flanks’ dissipate, and are much more scalloped down to, what I’d call, and electric guitar neck, like a Strat at the 12th. Martin calls this their “Performing Artist Neck Profile“.

I’ve come to really get used to this feel, and live in concert it just felt more SOLID through all my chord progressions. If you like really THIN necks though… this is not the Droid you’re looking for! LoL

5) The best is for last: the overall tone of this guitar is beautiful. Right after I first got it, I tested it against ALL my guitars back home, and found that I still preferred the Martin’s sound over all my others for playing live. My Franks guitar still is the best acoustic for recorded acoustic sound, but that’s to be expected, since that’s what I had it built for!

Taped wires for quieter performance
Taped wires for quieter performance

Oh, and lest you think I found PERFECTION, well… I did have to tape the inside electronics wires down to one of the braces because you could hear them occasionally bouncing around inside. I move a lot when I play, so those wires were causing all kinds of unwanted sonic artifacts.

But, hey, a quick slice of gaffer’s tape and… all was well. If that’s the only negative to be found, I think you’ll agree – that’s nuthin’!

My summer concert was a victory on many levels, but one of the best reasons I feel like I “conquered” that night is because this Martin X-Series acoustic brought out the best in my material…and in me!

From Space… to Brace!

So, again… what does all this have to do with space debris???

Well, on 19 October 19th, 2017, astronomers at a Hawaiian telescope discovered the first confirmed object from another star system to visit our solar system. It was named “Oumuamua“, which in Hawaiian means “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past.”

Some thought it’s an alien ship. Some say it’s just an asteroid. Others think it’s a comet that’s lost its shimmery mojo!

Here’s a quick TED Talk on it, in case you missed the galactic hubbub:

Regardless of what it is, it’s the first discovery of its kind, and that’s’s pretty cool. Now that it’s off, heading away from our Sun, we can only wave it goodbye and continue the wide-eyed speculation.

Well, we can do a little more, actually. I named my guitar after it!!

I noticed right away when I picked up my particular Martin guitar that on its back, near the middle, was a very cigar-shaped circle of wood grain.

My Oumuamua grain guitar!

Since I had just seen Oumuamua in the news, it immediately sprung to mind: “Hey! It’s that alien ship thing!!”

So, yea, my Martin is affectionately named “Oumuamua”. Whenever I play it, I know that it ALSO is a ‘messenger that reaches out from the distant past’… from when I first wrote the song I’m playing!

That’s one of the magical things about songwriting – whenever you play something you’ve written, even decades later, you are taken right back to that place & time in which you composed it.

So take us, Martin… take us back! Across light years of sound, cosmic chord clusters, through the dark and light matter… to where songs find a home within us… and without us!

A New Benchmark!

This particular Martin Anniversary guitar has made such a difference in my sound, I’ll never get rid of it. It’s just that good. To investigate, follow this link:

As I go forward, I’m sure to be testing every acoustic that stirs my interest against this unique beauty.

I already have a trip planned to a little town in Coshocton, Ohio which, unbelievably, has a store that’s sold the most preeminent acoustics in the WORLD.

I’m specifically heading there to test this Martin against some of the world’s best.

And you KNOW I’ll be sharing THOSE results with you!! 😉

In the meantime, I hope YOU have an instrument that inspires you on to bigger and better creations. If not, hitch your wagon to the stars and blast off on a focused star TREK!

You may find your songs, and your sound, going where you’ve never gone before. 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm-fields!

The Songless Studio – What Months Away From Recording Will Teach You!

“I’m baaaaaaack… !”

Just HAD to start today’s post with that, since I just saw the latest installment of the “Terminator” film franchise. I think it’s gonna take decades before the “I’ll be back” jokes disappear from our common vernacular.

If EVER!

Did any of you see it?? It was great to see Linda & “AHHH-nuld” back in the saddle again. After a long absence, I noticed they took up their roles as professionally as ever.

Maybe better?!

It’s like riding a bike, or… beating Mario Cart, or…

… writing a Blog.

Yes, I’ve been away for a while now. 5 MONTHS, to be exact. Missed you all, for sure.

I had much to do, but all that I set out to accomplish is now in the history books, and at last I can finally return to you, my fellow GEAR-heads, and continue our merry trek down “Music Gear Road”!

But first – a quick look back…

Where the heck WERE ya, Teaj???!

Teaj, twangin’ & croonin’!

So, I had three MAJOR goals that I had to meet this summer:

FIRST, I had to play my first ever LIVE, full concert of my own material!

This was (as any of you who’ve done it know) a daunting task. We’re talking months of focused prep, long rehearsals, hours of fine-tuning and tweaking chords, lyrics and licks to pull it off.

I even filmed myself doing the concert… BEFORE THE CONCERT, just so I could watch and see if there were any weak spots!

It’s hard enough playing OTHER people’s music for a couple hours; hits, covers, etc. But when you’re playing ONLY your own material (and most of the audience, in my case, hasn’t ever heard it)… WHOO! That’s a much bigger challenge.

Add to that the fact that it was being filmed by a 2-camera professional set-up, in an astoundingly beautiful venue called “20 Front Street” (look it up!) and I think you’ll understand why I took time off from SeriousGas.

I had to make @#$$% sure that it was going to be a flawless performance.

And guess what?! It pretty much was! Only on the very FIRST song did I accidentally skip the BRIDGE (an upbeat Pop/Rock-er called “All About You”).

Of course, if anyone asks, I was using “creative license” to alter the song, and being “led by a sudden, primal instinctive muse” that “shaped the song for a pregnant moment of artistic revolution”!! LoL

But if only one out of 16 or so tunes had an issue, that’s an AWESOME outcome! I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better night. The audience interaction, performance quality, my energy levels… even my voice, was in tip-top form!

I’m now in the process of editing the whole concert’s film footage. Then it’s up on YouTube we go. I’ll keep ya apprised…

SECOND, I took on a Management job full-time at a local fitness club here in my neighborhood. Big change, for sure. Why?

For years, I’ve made a living as a musician AND a film actor, but the economic downturn of 2009 really put the kabash on our Industry here in the state of Michigan, and in the last 5 years it dwindled finally to absolutely NO FILMS coming to our fair state at all. No films = no work.

I’d tell you how state politics was to blame, but I’m having a good day and don’t want to ruin it. LOL

Detroit-Freep-race-jersey

THIRD, and last, I had a couple half-marathons I had to run in the fall, and I really wanted to crush last year’s final pace scores. That meant many miles of running and prep as well.

Did I do it?? Ohhhhh, yes I did!! Shaved almost a full MINUTE off my average Mile pace in the Detroit Freep!! Those of you who are runners know how exhilarating that is… and also how hard to DO.

So, in a nutshell…

MAN, I was busy!! 😉

Live Music is a Whole Different Animal

So, what did my months off teach me?

Well, first up, I was reminded that pulling off a good live concert takes a set of skills that are similar, but in several ways different, than the typical day in the recording studio.

The biggest change obviously is that you’ve got just ONE SHOT to get it right!

It’s like The Beatles back in their first Abbey Road days – they couldn’t punch in a little part on the vocal. They couldn’t fix just one instrument in one section of a song. If they made a mistake, they had to do the whole thing over again!

In a concert setting, the set lists are stacked even more against you: make a mistake, and you don’t get the chance to do it again! That’s it.

To quote Alien 2: “Game over, man! Game over!!” lol

I’ve only recorded live in the studio with a band once in life thus far. It was a fantastic experience, and I’d love to do it again.

To do so, however, takes extreme commitment from people in addition to yourself. That’s where I’ve always found the hardship to be – no one wants to put in as much rehearsal as I do.

Because of that, I’ve always found that I have better results just doing it myself. Yeah it takes a ton of rehearsing, but you also have no doubts about when you’re ready.

Of course, there’s always the option of HIRING professional musicians to play on your material, but then we’re getting into so much money that, to me at least, it’s cost-prohibitive.

(Especially when, in most cases, I can just play it myself and get great results.)

I also noticed that I had to use a much wider range of Dynamics in my songs when playing solo and in a live setting.

In a fully-produced, recorded song, all the other riffs, licks and instruments help keep your attention.

But when it’s just you and a guitar, or just you and a piano, I’ve found that it’s the ebb and flow of Dynamics that really helps keep people on the edge of their seats.

Ahhhh…. Dynamics!!

Many times during my recent concert, I’d sing one part of a song with full voice and gusto, only to drop to almost a whisper over light finger-picking in a later section.

You can almost feel the audience leaning in to your song and performance when you do this. It’s so magical… and so addicting!!

Lastly, you really have to know the intricacies of your instruments much more live than you do in the studio.

No audience wants to sit there and wait while you fiddle with your instrument, trying to get it ready for the song. You have to have it ready, well-tuned, and, in my case, you must know WHICH guitar is in WHAT alternate tuning for which specific song.

I learned long ago to compose in alternate tunings, mostly from my acoustic hero Bruce Cockburn (read about him HERE!). It’s wonderful, the voices you can create… but it sure does make a live concert more, uh… let’s just say “challenging”. LoL

I used 5 guitars that night, each handpicked and selected for certain songs. Only lots of rehearsal prepped me for that kind of quick, specific switching. In the end, it was totally worth it.

“Know Thy gear, and to Thine own gear be true!”

Amen, brother!!

The Things we Do for… Music

For over three decades now I’ve been a musician. Some would think after so long I’d want to slow down. Coast on what I’ve learned. Maybe even leave it behind, since I’ve probably earned less than $10,000 off of music since I began.

Those that would say that… don’t know real musicians.

With this recent regional drought in the film industry, I needed to look elsewhere for income.

Why? To pay bills??

Sure. That’s always needful. But my own personal “Prime Directive” is a little different from Star Trek’s…

… I want more gear!!!

Big surprise there, since we’re on Seriousgas.com, right?! LoL

Really though, the gear is secondary. It’s always about the music. Not only do I want to put out an album THIS year, I’m prepping for one NEXT year too. And that means I need to upgrade and buy a few things to modernize the sound.

So, the months I took off, away from you all, have led me to today, where I have a higher income than ever to put towards expanding my repertoire and my tool set.

In the final analysis, why… that’s not a bad trade at all, don’tcha think? 😉

If you ever have to give up a JOB so your CAREER can be better, that’s a wise choice; don’t regret it. Soon enough, you’ll be right back where you wanna be. Stay determined, and keep your eyes on the ultimate prize.

Dead Poets Write Good Lyrics

Sometimes we need to get off the beaten path a bit, in order to later come back and forge a new, better path.

That doesn’t mean we’re not giving our best; it just means we’re shifting our focus to serve a greater goal we have in mind.

One of my favorite films is the “Dead Poets Society“. Robin Williams really knocked it outta the park in that one. For me, it’s his best film roll.

He, and the other excellent cast members, really make a lasting impression through that script.

One of the biggest takeaways of the film is the use of the phrase, ” Carpe Diem”, which means “seize the day”. If you’ve never seen this film, take a moment to at least watch this extraordinary scene where Williams introduces this phrase… in a most unforgettable way:

Brilliant, right?! So impactful; so profound.

And so true.

I can actually say that I’ve striven to live by that phrase ever since being schooled about it by Robin in that film.

That means being constantly vigilant about prioritizing my actions. There will always be a hundred things that CAN be done in a day. But which ones truly NEED to be done, keeping our ultimate goals in mind? Each day is different, as is the thing you’ll need to seize.

Similarly, I have this motto hanging just to the right of my studio work desk:

That, together with “carpe diem”, pretty much sums up my life philosophy.

So in these last few months, have I been able to do any studio recording?

Nope. Did I write a single post for my blog??

Not a one. Did I at least compose any new songs for next year’s album??

Nada.

But did I live a “carpe diem”, “be better than I’ve been” summer??

Absolutely.

Though I’ve not accomplished anything here in the studio, out in the world I accomplished a LOT, including a full concert of my own material that, at the end of the night, might have been my best performance ever.

Seizing the day doesn’t mean always doing the same thing as before. Sometimes, there must be detours. But defining your goal and destination? That’ll always keep you on track.

So follow your Muse in your music. Don’t let setbacks take your eyes off the prize. And whatever you do, don’t forget…

… if you believe it, you’re destined for great things!!

Your Passion Never Leaves You

Another thing that became clear during my “studio vacation” is that, no matter where I go or what I do, the musician in me is always present, and will find a way to bring life to others.

To remind me of why I’m there working, I have in my Life Time office 3 personal items:

a picture of my family

the “being better” motto, hanging on my wall, and

my most expensive ukulele

It didn’t take long for people to recognize the significance of all three. It also didn’t take them long to ask me to play for everybody.

Before even one week had passed, I became the go-to guy for every “Happy Birthday” sing-along.

On top of that, I’m asked frequently to come to the front of the club to play & sing famous songs, on holidays and what not. I have no doubt that near Christmas I’ll be a “regular act” at the front desk with my voice and ukulele.

Did I seek this out? Not at all. But once people discover a musician and entertainer… buddy, they wanna be entertained!!

And so a new outlet for my love of songwriting and musicianship appeared.

Have no fears that, if you have to go away from music for a bit, it’ll somehow leave you. It will definitely still be there, and in fact… you’ll probably discover a freshness in it because you stepped away.

The musical muse is understanding.

Patient.

Ready when you are.

What you gained never disappears. It might need coaxing out, and it might look & sound a little different, but it’s still just as YOU and interesting, and fascinating, as before.

As I walked through my studio at times in the last 5 months, it almost felt like everything was sleeping.

Well, maybe not sleeping really… just more like… everything had its eyes closed, waiting. Waiting for me. Like they didn’t want to have to see me just walk by them and not play, even if it were for just a minute.

They’re so needy. 😉

Today, I started picking things up and playing them again, and, I tell you… it was just like getting together to hang with a good, old friend. It’s all there, and it’s all GOOD.

“Jurassic Park” stated that “Life will find a way”. For us tone-twangerz and bangers, it’s “Music will find a way!”

It always does.

It’s Good to HIT Things!!

Isn’t it funny how very different instruments are from one another? Until they’ve played a variety of instruments, people don’t realize the subtleties in technique, approach, and even mind & body chemistry that different instruments demand and provoke.

Take DRUMS. The aggression that I approach my kits with is very different from how I pick up my acoustic guitars. If I’m on the throne, sticks in hand… I’m BANGIN’, dude!!

There’s no other instrument that I play that produces and demands from me so much intensity, power, focus and, frankly… SWEAT!!! I can get behind my Pearl Export exanded kit and play for hours. LOVE… IT!!!

Teaj's studio multi-genre kit, "record-ready"
Teaj’s Pearl studio multi-genre kit

Want a workout – if you want to burn a thousand calories or so, just play a Rock/Pop set on a drum kit for an hour or more.

It’s no wonder fat drummer are rare!!  LOL

So, yeah, one of the things I couldn’t wait to get back to is hitting those skins. And after this blog is uploaded, one guess where you’ll find me.

I won’t be watching Netflix.

Cue the Toto “Rosanna” track!!!

And in the End…

… it’s not the STUDIO that matters.

It’s the love of music that you express IN it, and to it, and through it, that matters most.

To re-phrase the Beatles: “And, in the end, the Music you make is equal to the Music you take.”

In other words, our study of gear, our instruments, the songs of the Masters… it’s given us so much (and we’ve taken MUCH from them!).

When we share that with others, it WILL inspire them, motivate them, lift their spirits, and prove that, no matter who or where you are, you can make this world a better place.

With music.

Thanks for all of you who’ve followed this Blog and sent messages and well-wished during my sabbatical. YOU are why I love being here, and your appreciation for all things musical make all this… always worthwhile.

Oh, and… don’t worry – in just a few more days… with yet another gear-lovin’ post…

… “I’ll be baaaaack.” 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

The Ludwig Supraphonic – A Super Snare Beyond Compare!

Hal Blaine on Ludwig drums
The one & only Hal Blaine!! (Photo: Howard Thompson)

Hal Blaine.

If you’re a drummer, chances are you know that name very well. There’s not many people on the planet that have played drums on 150 number one hits… but Hal did!

And the snare drum he used on more of them than any other??

The Ludwig Supraphonic!

Hal was specifically a
model 400 chrome-on-brass snare guy, which had the 5″ depth and was generally tuned pretty low, and with Remo heads.

For more info on just how incredible Hal was, and the absurd amount of artists he played sessions for, check out his history HERE.

And Hal wasn’t the only one! Other legendary beat-makers that took to the Supra like Elvis to rhinestones were:

  • Charlie Watts (Stones)
  • Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix)
  • Dino Danelli (Young Rascals)
  • John Densmore (Doors)

And the list goes on (we’ve left one extraordinary name out that we’ll mention soon enough!).

So what makes this beast so special and desirable all these decades later?? Let’s find out… !

A Construction Glimpse!

To see how a drum LIKE the Supraphonic is made (it’s probable that Ludwig uses an approach just like this), check out this factory tour of a Sonar snare… the end product looking suspiciously like a Supra!

Two Flavors!

As it began back in the 60s, so up to today the famed Supraphonic snare comes in two delicious varieties:

  • The 400 (5 x 14)
  • The 402 (6 1/2 x 14)

Both have the same crisp, lively metallic SMACK that has graced thousands of recordings over the decades.

The 400 is the smaller version, and was Hal Blaine’s weapon of choice. It’s the perfect snare if you’re recording Rock/Pop tunes.

The Supraphonic 400!
The Supraphonic 400!

For the past decades, most of the drum kits in the Ludwig catalogs show a 400 model snare as the accompanying standard. That also shows just how big a craving there is for this tasty tone-tapper.

The 402?? Well, that’s a Supra on steroids. It’s rumored to be what Joshua used to make the walls of Jericho fall. Seismologists also think L.A. studio use of this snare is what keeps triggering earthquakes in the region.

But I digress… 😉

The Ludwig 402 snare!!

The overall tone and attack of both models is versatile and dynamic, allowing you to coax delicate ghost notes and whomping in-your-face hits out from this same shiny cylinder of percussive joyriding.

Ludwig still produces both of these today. You’ll find additional options and hardware upgrades here and there, but for the most part its construction has remained pretty much unchanged, which is a testament to its brilliance and flexibility over the changing face of music.

But wait! There’s one name that flung the Supraphonic to the forefront of drumming history probably more than any other. It’s… it’s…

A Match Made in (Stairway to) Heaven!

John hittin’ his Supra! (Photo:
Dina Regine)

John Bonham!!

It’s pretty obvious that the huge, lasting popularity of the 402 snare can mostly be attributed to the influence of this mighty icon of Rock drumming thunder.

He used the 402 extensively with Led Zeppelin. He loved it. It was a large part of his sound.

And when you consider how many divergent styles John played using that snare, it’s proof positive that this one deep beat machine can be anything you want it to be.

Blues, funky Rock, Heavy Rock, Folk Rock… John played it all, and the 402 never sounded out of place in any of those genres. Pretty impressive.

John’s kit in the Hard Rock Cafe, London

I mean, come on… just go listen to some Zeppelin. It’ll speak for itself.

If you don’t have a Led Zeppelin album, and are without a streaming site online, no problem… just turn the radio on. If it’s a classic rock station, I guarantee you’ll hear John and his 402 within minutes!! LoL

Because of Bonham’s preference, legions of rock drummers are still wooed by the “Halls of Valhalla” pounding, demanding presence that this snare provides. If you haven’t tried it, well…

… you simply must! 😉

Supraphonic-snare-M.F.-BUYcon

Getting Down To Brass Smacks!

Some don’t know this, but the drum was initially put out with brass being the main metal. That was when they called it the “Super Ludwig”, around 1958.

If you find a vintage Supra from that era, it’ll be hard to tell exactly what kind you have, as the brass drums and the aluminum drums look
almost identical.

But the vast majority of vintage Supras you’ll find these days are made from their “LudAlloy”, which is aluminum mixed with some other metals.

Those “other metals” are a trade secret, but something tells me they’ve changed a bunch of times through the years, and might even be whatever Ludwig had lying around! Lol

If you have an old Supra and suspect that you might indeed have a BRASS model, the only thing you can do is remove a bit of chrome and look at the color underneath. If it’s a dark grey color, then you’ve got what most of us have: Chrome over Aluminum.

But if you DO find a brassy tone underneath, congratulations! You just won the Ludwig lottery. The brass Supraphonic is a rare drum of superior tone (most would say, but not all).

If you’re gonna do that scraping investigation though, do yourself a favor and rub the Chrome off UNDER one of the lugs or the strainer. That way no one will see the DESTRUCTIVE, SACRILIGIOUS VANDALISM that you’re forcing onto that sacred drum!! lol

Here’s another less invasive way of differentiating brass from aluminum: if the chrome is flaking off of your drum, it’s almost certain that it’s an aluminum shell. Aluminum and Chrome don’t have a loving relationship together. They tend to want to leave each other.

Like bass players and girlfriends. LOL

Anyway, Ludwig has offered brass shells again here or there, especially in the mid 90s. But, by and large, aluminum is what you’ll find in a Supra. And that’s okay.

Thousands of satisfied radio hits can’t be wrong, right?!

If you reeeeeeeeally want a looooooooot more info on this particular Supra tangent, I guarantee you won’t find anything more in-depth than the following video by Terry Keating.

He’s a madman. lol

What Makes it… a Supra?!

Basically, if you see a Ludwig metal snare and it has a seamless “Ludalloy” shell, with a P-83, P-85 or P-86 throw-off, then it’s a Supraphonic.

It was introduced in 1963, and from the get-go had the same model numbers that we know today:

  • The 400, which was the 5 1/2” x 14″
  • The 402, which was the 6 1/2” x 14″

The Supraphonics from that time came standard with triple-flanged hoops, but if you wanted to, you could have special ordered your Supra with die-cast hoops instead, by simply adding the letter Y to the catalog number (e.g. “402 K Y”).

The standard Supras from that time we’re made of a spun metal “ludalloy’ material, which was simply Ludwig’s name for their specific aluminum alloy.

Although its ingredients are technically a trade secret, it’s whisper behind control room doors that it’s comprised of aluminum mostly, with trace elements of magnesium and zinc thrown in to make it…

… well, you’d think to make it sound better. But one drummer (who’s also a metallurgist) told me that they use the alloy mostly because it’s more flexible and stronger than straight aluminum. And cheaper.

So, the alloy probably affects the sound to a small degree, but the choice to use “ludalloy” for the hoops on Ludwig Drums was more an economic decision than anything else.

Gee… big surprise there! lol

The other thing that truly defines a Supraphonic snare is that they use a one-piece ludalloy strip of metal and put a center bead around it to increase rigidity. In other words, a Supraphonic has not been welded together anywhere.

Look, Ma… no seam!!

As with any material, the sustain and tone is improved when there are no cuts, welds or glued portions. That famed characteristic “crack” of the Supraphonic is, in part, due to its one-piece aluminum construction.

The Metal vs. Throw-off Debate

Okay, now we come to the part of our review where… we just have to chuckle. There are some people that get so worked up about this debate, I just had to laugh reading some of the posts online.

It’s like telling those screaming girls that chased the Beatles that you think Paul’s dead – you’re taking your life in your own hands there, buddy!! Lol

Here’s the crux of the argument:

“Does ‘Supraphonic’ refer to the DRUM? Or to the strainer/throw-off??”

My Supra’s P-85 throw-off.

Based on historical evidence, I side with the DRUM being labeled as “Supraphonic”, and I’ll explain why soon enough. But I see the other side’s point of view, and I don’t think they’re out to lunch either.

Here’s what we know: the Supras originally came with the P-83 strainer with a P-32 butt.

In the late 60s the P-83 was swapped out for the P-85 though, then the latest upgrade, the P-86.

Now, some people state that if a metal Ludwig snare has any of those three strainers, then it’s a Supraphonic.

My hammered Supra P-85.

This is not historically accurate. MOST of Ludwigs early drums used the P-83, with just a few exceptions, so that doesn’t make sense.

Also, the first time a Ludwig drum was labeled a “Supra-Phonic” in their literature was when they switched from “chrome over brass” to “chrome over aluminum”. The throw-off hadn’t changed, so that indicates, according to Ludwig catalogs, that it’s the drum carrying the name, not the strainer.

At least back THEN. Ludwig’s marketing has tended towards referring to the drums as “the 400 or the 402” in recent history, instead of calling the drum itself a “Supraphonic”. That, I think, is the center of all the confusion.

I’ve got a call in to Ludwig. If they call me back with a final word… you’ll be the first to hear!!! 😉

My Supra… that IS!!

Anytime I want that Bonham ‘shake the foundations’ THWACK for a snare drum sound, I’ve got just the ticket: my 402!

This snare belonged to a dear friend of mine who’s no longer with us. In fact, the whole kit was his and I bought it to keep his memory, and music, alive in my studio.

Check out the full story of that whole kit IN THIS ARTICLE.

He was such a Led Zeppelin fan and, of course… what ELSE would he have for a snare, right?!

So, yea, whenever I get my full Rock swagger on… we break out the big guns. And you always know the real thing when ya hear it. 😉

My kit for rockin’ out… complete with the 6.5×14 Supra!

I have a real penchant for Van Halen-type electric guitar riffing, since Eddie was a hero as I started to learn guitar.

Whenever I get in that mood, I have my son get on this rock kit and, while I’m scattering two-hand tapping sound bullets off the walls, he’s just WAILIN’ on that big, beautiful baby known as the 402.

After all… I’ll give ya ONE guess what snare Alex uses! 😉

My Supra… that ISN’T!!

In prepping this article for you I did a lot of research on the Supras and their history. One of the things I discovered is…

… one of my two Supraphonics… ISN’T!! LoL

At least not technically speaking, tho’ plenty of drummers online still refer to the one I have as a Supra. Let’s investigate why…

Full Kit with Supraphonic snare
My Pop/Rock Kit with Supraphonic snare!

Above you see the Pearl kit I usually use for Pop/Rock or AOR tunes. My 5×14 Supra is always there, at least near, since it’s a great choice for many of those types of songs.

I mean, Hal Blaine… ’nuff said, right?! 😉

My 5×14 Ludwig snare looks just like a Supra, except that it’s hammered, not smooth. Everything about it looks like a Supra to me… and it’s always given me that sound too, so I just never questioned that it might NOT be a Supra.

I bought it used so I didn’t have any sales person to tell me different!

Turns out, my snare is listed in an early 80s Ludwig catalog as the “400 K” model from the “Hammered Chrome series“, not the “Supra-Phonic series”, as they called it back then.

It’s from 1982 or ’83, has a Blue/Olive badge, and bears the Serial Number 3120657.

If you notice in the catalog above, the Supraphonic 5×14 model number is just like my drum: the “400”. It just doesn’t have the “K” after it.

So are the differences pronounced? Do I really have a NON-Supraphonic??

Not really. If we look at the actual differences… I can find only ONE:

  • It’s hammered, not smooth!

So, okay, mine is technically NOT a Supraphonic, but, big whoop – for all intents & purposes, it IS a Supraphonic!

Here’s what IS THE SAME between mine and an early 80s Supra:

Hammered Supra with mic
My Pseudo-Supra, mic’d & ready!
  • The size (14” wide x 5” deep)
  • The strainer (P-85)
  • The hoops (triple-flanged)
  • The snares (20 wire)
  • The lugs (10 Imperials)
  • The metal (Chrome over LudAlloy)
  • The model # (400)

So, there ya go… I was schooled today!! LoL

None the worse for wear though, ‘cuz this snare sounds great for certain songs. Hammering the metal on a drum tends to attenuate its harmonics more, so this snare is actually better for me, since most of what I do is studio session work, not live work. Not having that snare ring a lot is, most of the time, just the ticket!

Anyways… it still gives me “that sound” when I need it, and that’s what’s important, right?

I’ll just call it… “Supra’s Sister” from now on!! LoL

It’s a Hit!!

So… the “Supra”. The most recorded snare in history?? Many say so, though there’s no way to prove it unequivocally.

But one thing’s for certain – if you need a snare that is uber-versatile, professional-sounding and has a long, rich history on countless number one hits? Your search has ended. It’s time you got the Supraphonic.

And see what all the fuss is about! 😉

Already have a Supra?? Played on one and fallen in love with its power and versatility?? Or just one of the thousands who dream G.A.S.-y dreams of owning your own one day like some of us already do?! Whatever the case, leave us a Comment and let us know.

I’m sure it would bring a smile to Bonham’s face to hear you weep and wail for his favorite! Lol

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

How To Solo On Guitar, Part 1 – Speaking Lessons… For Your Fingers!!

Ever heard a Best Man or Maid of Honor give a speech wedding reception and think, “Wow – they’re really eloquent!”?

Or maybe you’ve visited the other side of the tracks, where somebody got up to speak and it was little more than an embarrassment or a parody of what a speech should be!

Either way, it shows you something: being able to communicate effectively is memorable, riveting and emotionally impactful in some, or all, ways.

To learn how to solo on guitar, you must first acknowledge that there are specific things that contribute to a guitar player being “good” at what they do.

And they aren’t guarded voodoo secrets either – it’s pretty easy to find out what things you need to do to be a superstar shredder.

The hard part is… DOING THEM!!

Down the guitar neck!

In this :Part One” of soloing techniques, I’m going to showcase and explain five different techniques that are always present in any memorable axe-slinger.

In subsequent articles, I’ll also write about many more, until I’ve shared with you the whole list that I’ve compiled over my 27+ years of teaching music.

For now, though… grab your axe, a pick, and let’s get playin’!

1) It’s Golden

So, ya ever notice how some people… just never shut up?!

It’s annoying, right?

We HEAR ya, already!!

In the same way, if you play and play and play… and keep playing, without a break, a pause, or a rest…

… THAT’S ALSO ANNOYING!

It’ll probably will be cool at first, but after a few minutes of your nonstop barrage of sound (some might even say ‘noise’!), people are going to tune out. We quickly get our fill of the same thing over and over again.

Just like Brian Regan’s “Me Monster”.

“What’s that?”, you ask? Well, lemme show you….

See what I mean? Who needs that kind of monotony!

Hope you enjoyed that Brian Regan clip as much as I always do. That guy always leaves me breathless – I can’t even pick my guitar up, I’m laughing so hard!

I showed you that to remind you of what NOT to do as you approach guitar soloing. It IS a lot like talking… just with your FINGERS, not your lips!

So don’t play like a machine gun. Don’t shoot with endless rounds – take breaks. Deliberately insert pauses. Let’s silence also speak.

I’ve done a lot of acting in my life too, and I can tell you… what makes a speech sound dramatic and impactful is where you put pauses.

2) Sloth or Cheetah??

The next thing to monitor your soloing for is whether or not you are varying the LENGTH of your notes, or their SPEED.

Just like when someone never shuts up, if you are always using the same kinds of notes, say, 16th notes, your music will quickly become, well… boring. You’ve GOT to mix it up a bit.

Consider these classic guitar solos:

  • “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix
  • “More Than A Feeling” – Boston
  • “Overkill” – Men at Work
  • “Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd


In each of these masterpieces, you not only find killer chops and tonal choices – you’ll also notice a great variety of note lengths. Sometimes they’re playing fast notes; sometimes slow ones.

Imagine the parade of yawns you’d create if you only used whole notes in your solos. Ugh. Awful.

Or, taking the opposite tack, consider how lost and uninterested your audience might become if you constantly barraged us with 32nd notes all the time with no consideration for a little sustain.

Now, certain genres call for more or less of each. If you play in a speed metal band, then, yeah… you’re going to have to play fast. A LOT!

But for the majority of music genres, the more variety you put in your note lengths, the more interesting and attractive your playing will be.

My good friend Sean Barrett, who sometimes writes for us here at Seriousgas.com, has a favorite guitarist (who shall remain nameless) that tends to play fast notes all the time.

I told Sean how I never wanted to listen to this artist because all I ever heard was machine gun delivery of notes over and over again. For me at least, that kind of approach is melodically uninteresting and unsatisfying.

Sean referred me to a couple songs where this artist finally slowed things down a bit here and there, and I actually found I could appreciate his playing and his style a lot more.

So cast a casual critical eye to your solo playing, and ask this question:

Am I mixing it up with slow and fast notes to express myself musically? Or am I the jerk in the fast lane he wants to tailgate everybody?! LoL

Yin and yang, people! Light and dark. Fear and calm. Love and hate.

Slow, and fast.

It’s what will make your playing, and thus YOU, mesmerizing and captivating in the long run.

3) How Was That Again??

“You’re gonna be a great guitarist!”

“You’re gonna be a great guitarist!”

Did you notice how much more meaningful and cool that felt, when I repeated that statement?!

Joe Walsh - the guitar MAN!!
Joe Walsh – the guitar MAN!!(Photo: Joe Walsh)

If something’s important, or exceptional, it deserves to be heard again. A second time!

Ever heard a song once on the radio and afterwards we’re able to sing it nonetheless? I guarantee you that song had a healthy dose of repetition in it!!

Here’s a few great songs that spring to mind that have obvious repetition in the guitar rhythm and/or solo sections:

  • “Separate Ways” – Journey
  • “Boys of Summer” – Don Henley
  • “Sweet Child of Mine” – Guns ‘N’ Roses
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – NIrvana

If you don’t know any of those songs well enough to hear the guitar parts in your head, go listen to ’em. You’ll find LOTS of repetition, and that’s partly why the song stick in your head so much.

EARWORM ALERT!! LoL

Now if you’re playing jazz, especially Free Jazz, then you get a pass card. We know what you like: melodic and harmonic exploration… non-stop! I get it. That’s part of what makes jazz… jazz.

(That’s also the reason, by the way, that the majority of people do NOT listen to Jazz. My wife is among them. She can’t stand it. She says it just sounds like musical chaos!)

Despite my wife’s inability to appreciate the nuances of some of the finest musicians alive today (sorry, honey!) even in jazz we find that at least the main melody of the tune, or the head phrase, will usually have a modicum of repetition. A note or two. Or three.

It all comes down to this: if you want your music to be accessible to the majority of people out there, you MUST put repetition in your phrasing.

It’s not hard to do either. Just make this little personal rule for yourself whenever you’re soloing: be looking and listening for exceptional phrases to repeat.

When you play something and think, “Wow! That sounds killer!”…

… PLAY IT A SECOND TIME!! Your audiences, and even your fellow musicians, will love it.

Now, I’m not saying run a phrase or lick into the ground, over and over and over and over and…

Just repeat it once. That’s all. Just once.

Chances are that little bit will do the trick.

And YOU’ll be fielding calls from people who want to hire you how to play guitar – for THEM! 😉

4) One of These Things… is Not Like the Other…

Teaching music students over three decades now, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of those things is how to recognize when a student still doesn’t “get it”, and how to come up with a new and different way to say the same thing to help them understand.

This is a great technique to use in your soloing also. Whenever you play a tasty lick, or riff, or phrase… repeat it again, but with a slight variation.

Maybe it’s the last note you change. Or maybe you swap out the first one.

Instead of sliding into the note, like you just did, you can bend into it instead.

Did you trill two notes together quickly? Then choose two different notes to trill, but keep the length the same.

Brian May on guitar
Brian May of Queen (Photo: Carl Lender at https://www.flickr.com/photos/clender)

Or perhaps you play the exact same melody, but use the whammy bar to sprinkle in some quick bends, to bend up at the beginning of some notes, like Mike Rutherford from Genesis does a lot.

There are myriad ways to play any given phrase a little different. No choice you make will be wrong, so just go for it!

Here’s a few fantastic guitar solos that do just that!:

  • “Something” – The Beatles
  • “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen
  • “Layla” – Eric Clapton

Just add a new little, subtle spice to your best phrases, and voila… people will eat it up, I’m telling ya.

If you think of soloing like talking to your audience, it’s like saying the same thing, but with a twist… So they finally get it.

See? There’s a music teacher in you too! 😉

5) Finger Singers

Okay, now we come to my favorite way of guitar soloing.

Playing melodically!!

I even think that a guitar solo would always be melodic, but I’ve heard enough of them to tell you that, no, some solos are hardly melodic at all.

I come across this very “unsingable” approach to soloing on guitar mostly in music that’s all about “showing off”. You know what I’m talking about:

“How fast can I play?!”

“How many notes can I fit in 8 measures?!!”

“How many old, road-worn guitar licks can I throw into one solo section?!!”

If those are the questions you’re asking to try to create a good guitar solo, you’ll probably end up with something that sounds closer to a parody, rather than a masterpiece.

This is why most of the time, when I’m recording guitar solos in the studio, I rarely keep the first thing I play. Or the second. Or even the third!!

Instead, I play through the solo section 5 to 10… sometimes up to 20 times. Then I go back and listen to them all, looking for whatever passages just sound perfect within the vibe of the song.

Notice I didn’t say that I look for what “impresses” me the most. The most impressive players of any instrument (to me at least) are those that serve THE SONG, and most of the time songs don’t need 32nd notes to appropriately bring them to life.

Here’s the best way I can describe making this technique work for you: after you come up with any guitar solo…

… try to SING it.

Yep, you read that right. Even if you’re not a vocalist in any way, still try to sing what you just played.

Then ask yourself: was that easy to sing? Or difficult?

And here’s an even better test: put your instrument down, walk away, and 5 minutes later see if you can hear the melody in

If, in either of those two cases, you find it difficult to resurrect that solo in your head, or on your lips, then you might need to think a bit more melodically.

Here are some of my absolute favorite guitar solos of all time that are SO melodic I can sing them from beginning to end. We’re talkin classic awesomeness here!:

  • “Panama” – Van Halen
  • “Hotel California” – Eagles
  • “Magic Man” – Heart
  • “Goodbye Stranger” – Supertramp
  • “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
  • Pretty much any Tom Scholz solo from any “Boston” record!!
Tom Scholz playing a guitar solo
Tom freakin’ Scholz, man!!! (Photo: Weatherman90)


If you listened to all six of those bands, as I just did writing this article, you can indeed say that you have been schooled, baby, in the art of melodic guitar soloing. No doubt about it.

So don’t just think scales. Or positions. Or remembering riffs.

Instead, try singing with your fingers. Strive for memorable, catchy MELODIES. Approach those strings like Paul McCartney approaches his vocals.

You do that? Your chances of playing a “guitar-hero-worthy” solo just skyrocketed into “very, very likely” territory.

Meetcha there!! 😉

Bring the Spice!!

So those are the first five techniques that I teach my students regularly here in my recording studio when they want to know how to solo on guitar.

There are many others, and I’ll be writing about them soon enough, so keep checking in here at seriousgas.com for the next bodacious batches of solo bad-ass-ery!

But in the meantime how about sharing some of the soloing techniques that you like to use? Are they among the ones we went over today? Or were your favorites missing?? Let us know in the Comments section and strut your technique stuff!

Show ’em your CHOPS, Gordo!

As always, the more time you spend with something, the more familiar you become with it. So take these suggestions into your wood shed, see how they influence your playing, and deliberately start singing your spontaneous string songs with their scintillating spices!

The specific combination of techniques that YOU use is what will, over time, create your own personal style and approach to playing.

I mean, come on… if Gordo the Gorilla can do it, then… LoL

Which reminds me… I gotta practice that mixolydian scale now! 😉

If you’d like even more general info on how to play guitar well, start with THIS FIRST GUITAR LESSON POST and continue on in the series we’ve written for you. Otherwise…

… see you soon for Part 2!!!

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!