The 7 Best Ukuleles of 2018 – Your 4-String Tickets to Paradise!

 

Can you picture it?

 

Your hammock gently swaying, under tall, green waving palms…

 

… your toe kicking warm little showers of gleaming white sand with every other swing…

 

… the sussurus of a beautiful turquoise sea lulling you into ‘surf’s up’ daydreams…

 

… and the smiling sound of a UKULELE sweeping down the beach from somewhere in the distance.

 

What is it about this tiny, unassuming instrument that can so take us to the peaceful, embracing beauty of the islands in just an instant?!

 

Who knows? But you’re here, so that means… you’ve decided to find out! You’ve drunk the sunny KoolAid and are decisively UKE-bound and strum ready.

 

Leleland ukulele shop in Berlin
JOHANNES ISELE/AFP/Getty Images

But which ukulele should you get? I mean, one cursory look online and you can see… there’s a TON!

 

Good question! If you missed my first post about how to buy a ukulele, you’ll want to go check that out first HERE. There you’ll find lots of info and get a good understanding of how to proceed in your ‘great island quest’ for a uke.

 

If you did read it tho’, let’s now move on to the 7 best ukuleles that you can get RIGHT NOW to fan that Hawaiian beach party flame into a roarin’ BONFIRE!!

Under $100

Ukulele ladies!The ukulele is no new instrument. It’s been around since the 1880s in Hawaii. For some reason, this little “jumping flea” (what ukulele translates as!) really caught on in America. Just check out those classy early 1900s gals playing for your listening pleasure. They got uke fever BAD!

 

But clearly today there are more manufactured ukuleles worldwide than EVER before. But there’s no need to get mired in uke overload. Every year we do a thorough scanning of the industry to see what the best values are at different price points… so you don’t have to!

 

So off we go!! We’ll start with the cheapest. Now, sure, you could the least amount possible to get a ukulele (like THIS PAPERWEIGHT), but you’ll be disappointed when, not only will it broken ukeprobably fall apart within a few times playing it, it might not even make it to your DOOR in one piece!

 

Not to mention they’ll be hard to play, are often missing crucial pieces (plenty of reviews saying that!) and sound pretty pathetic.

 

For some of you though, you simply want to buy your child, who’s, say, under 10 years old, a uke to play on. I gotcha. In that case, since you’re probably not too concerned about tone or intonation, I would personally go with…

 

1) The Diamond Head DU-151 Soprano Ukulele Starter Kit!

Diamond Head Ukulele package

 

This not only has a decent uke that has garnered 4 out of 5 stars in over 700 reviews, but it also comes with a gig bag, a pocket instruction guide, an online lesson, and even picks. Definitely a great 1st instrument for any child and sure to bring a lot of tropical smiles to your living room! To pick it up, quick and easy, GO HERE!

 

Now, if you’re over 10 years old and want to buy an inexpensive ukulele for yourself – one that is getting consistently good reviews, sounds good, isn’t missing pieces and won’t fall apart, then break open your ‘piggy at a luau bank’ and strum on over to…

 

2) The Lohanu “LU-S”  Soprano Ukulele

 

This ukulele is a rare product. Why? It’s one of the very few products I’ve ever seen that has over two thousand reviews all giving it a FIVE-STAR RATING! Pretty outstanding.

 

I think it’s not only that the quality is above average; you also get a ton of accessories with the package. Here’s what your purchase will include:

 

  • Sapele/Mahogany Top, Back & Sides & Neck
  • A Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Aquila Strings Installed
  • Handmade ABS Bindings
  • Chrome die cast tuning gears
  • A Strap
  • Two Strap Buttons, installed
  • A Tuner
  • A Case
  • 2 Picks
  • A Pick Holder
  • An Extra Set of Aquila Strings
  • FREE Bonus Ukulele Video Lessons!
  • UNCONDITIONAL LIFETIME WARRANTY for Ukulele & All Accessories!!

 

To get all that for under $80 is quite the accomplishment. Plus it looks really, really nice. That Mahogany wood grain looks killer, and rivals the look of my own mahogany uke that cost over $200!!

 

if you’re serious about gettin’ your hula on, why wait… BUY IT HERE!

 

Both of the ukes above are Soprano ukuleles. They are almost the smallest available.

 

So, what if you have larger hands??

 

No problem! Lucky for you, the Lohanu Ukulele package ALSO comes in a Concert and a Tenor size!

 

3) The Lohanu “LU-S”  Concert Ukulele

Lohanu Concert UkeThe most common uke played today is a “Concert Ukulele”. It’ll provide you with a little more real estate under those fingertips and won’t make you feel quite so much like your hands are having to play “Twister”.

 

All the specs of this uke are the same as the Soprano above. You’re basically just getting a BIGGER instrument made of all the same materials… at the same insanely low price.

 

Ready to get that fingertip upgrade and bring the island breezes to your porch by getting this Lohanu Concert Uke?  BUY IT HERE!! 

4) The Lohanu “LU-S”  Tenor Ukulele

Lohanu Tenor UkeGot REAL “monster mitts”??! Then I’d instead increase the size even further and go with the Tenor size.

 

As you increase the size of the instrument, the space between frets increases, thus giving you more room to maneuver.

 

The Soprano, Concert and Tenor ukuleles all have the same fingerings. It’s only when you move down to the Baritone uke that the fingerings change. So feel free, as many of my uke-y friends have, to get one of each. I did have one of each… until I traded away my Tenor for… a Telecaster guitar.

 

Yea, I know. I get G.A.S. once in a while myself!   lol

 

If you’ve got cocktail wieners for fingers, Lohanu has you covered – celebrate that size matters and get your larger-sized Tenor ukulele today. To nab it, CLICK HERE!!

 

Under $200

If you’re wiling to spend more than a hundred bucks on a uke, then this probably isn’t your first uke rodeo! Whatever the case, you can bet there’s lots of options for your more “discriminating taste”, without question. Let’s look at a couple…

 

First off, I have to put in this list one of my favorite ukes to play, and that’s the BARITONE ukulele. If you’re coming from guitar to uke, guess what? You already know the fingerings! Playing a baritone uke is just like playing the upper four strings of a regular guitar in standard tuning.

 

Since it’s significantly bigger, it also gives you quite a different tonality than the “normal”, concert uke sound. Think “my uke and my git-fiddle had a baby” and you’ll be near the mark.  😉

 

The best deal I find on one currently is this:

 

Oscar Schmidt Uke5) The Oscar Schmidt OU53S Baritone Ukulele!

The reviews are rockin’ with scores of satisfied customers, and the price is definitely exceptional for all you get:

 

  • Select Spruce top
  • Rosewood back and sides.
  • Rosewood fingerboard and bridge
  • Abalone top inlays
  • Dimensions: 14″ (35 cm) long, 10″ (25 cm) wide at the lower bout, 7.5″ (18 cm) wide at the upper bout, and 3″ (7.5 cm) deep.

 

I really like two things especially about this uke: the wider, more manly bridge, and the impressive detailing and purfoiling that is done on the edges. Beautiful stuff!

 

GET IT HERE and start Bari-toning your way to the beach tonight!!

6) The Lohanu Cutaway Electric Concert Ukulele!

Lohanu Electric UkeWhen you get into the one hundred dollar PLUS range, you probably (like me) are also thinking about electrification. The best uke under $200 I could find that comes ready for amplification is this awesome deal.

 

I need to say here, I am in NO WAY affiliated with Lohanu. I get no kickbacks from them, no percentage. I have never talked with them in my life.

 

But I cannot ignore all the reviews people leave – not just dozens… HUNDREDS of reviews, almost all giving 5 stars to these products. Capitalism doesn’t lie, in this respect. These ukes are getting thumbs up all across the nation! Whenever I thought I found a good deal and good quality from another company, I find Lohanu blowing them away in the reviews section… and in their pricing.

 

That speaks volumes.

 

So, get this: this package deal is, like the other one above I mentioned, a steal, it’s so packed full of quality and accessories. Here’s what you get with this investment:

Lohanu Electric Uke electronics frame

  • A cutaway body
  • Sapele/Mahogany Top, Back & Sides & Neck
  • A Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Aquila Strings Installed
  • Handmade ABS Bindings
  • Chrome die cast tuning gears
  • A 3-band EQ
  • A Strap
  • Two Strap Buttons, installed
  • A Tuner
  • A Case
  • 2 Picks
  • A Pick Holder
  • An Extra Set of Aquila Strings
  • FREE Bonus Ukulele Video Lessons!
  • An UNCONDITIONAL LIFETIME WARRANTY!!

 

This is such an amazing deal, and proven to be such a quality instrument based on the reviews, I’ve decided that I’M buying one. Yep; I LOVE the fact that it’s a cutaway, which you rarely find in a uke under $200.

Wanna join me in snatching up this stupendous value in a ukulele package? Easy – BUY IT HERE!!

Under $500

Okay, if you’re willing to spend upwards of $300 for a ukulele, you are definitely in the big leagues now! You obviously want an instrument that is going to sound good all the time, have excellent intonation, stay in tune, look phenomenal, and last for years. Am I right??

 

Alright then… let’s get you what you want. Here is the best overall value I found anywhere on this kind of top-notch uke:

 

7) The Kala KA-SKCGE-C Spruce/Koa Concert Ukulele!

Kala Spruce Ukulele
Look at that Spruce, goose!

There’s one large reason I am recommending this particular ukulele – the specific combination of woods used in its construction.

 

See, I had a guitar made from scratch by a luthier who knows his picks from his pickups, and we were very deliberate about choosing the woods. I “listened” to quite a few different types of wood faceplates. By simply tapping on the thin wood top you could hear already, even before construction, how the wood disseminates sound.

 

Adirondack Spruce was, by far, the best-sounding top plate I heard. The rest of the guitar I made of Hawaiian Koa. Today, it is my NUMBER ONE, go-to acoustic when I’m recording in the studio. Nothing beats it. I rarely have to EQ it at all. It’s just that good.

 

This Kala ukulele is made of almost the same stuff. Similar woods mean similar tones, so this baby should give you a lot of sweet, sweet music for years to come. Kala is a very respected brand too. Someone very into ukes swears by ’em (you’ll meet Mark farther down!).

 

The picture alone should tell you all you need to know, but here’s the construction in a nutshell:

 

  • TOP: Solid Spruce
  • BACK & SIDES: Hawaiian Koa
  • FINGERBOARD: Pau Ferro
  • STRINGS: D’Addario Titanium
  • ELECTRONICS: Kula by Fishman

 

This is obviously more of an Intermediate to Professional-type instrument. The Fishman electronics unit I have used myself. It’s also dependable, clean and effective towards getting a great sound through a P.A. system.

 

For more info, check it out on THIS PAGE, and start imagining what it would be like to speak through this kind of a higher-end uke. I can tell you… it’s GREAT!

 

When the Hawaiian Sky’s the Limit!

Alright, so… we’ve given some super options for beginners, exceptional values for the Intermediate player, and even a couple high-end ukes for those of you more serious about the craft of UKE-ing. I hear even newly-wed brides like to celebrate on their honeymoons with ukuleles. Weird?? Naaaaaaah.   lol

 

What’s left? Well, I don’t want to leave out those of you to whom a ukulele is more, so much MORE, than an instrument; it has become… for you, a way of life.

 

I have a friend for whom this is definitely true: Mr. Mark Swarthout. His website says it all – theukuleledude.com! I mean, come on… just take a look, in the picture below, at all those ukuleles the man plays!! Talk about serious G.A.S.!!

 

 

Ukulele Collection of Ukulele dude!

 

 

the ukulele dudeI interviewed Mark recently and asked him his opinions about the subject of this article. He said he’s pretty much played every manufactured uke out there, so his insights are valuable for the end goal of a wise uke purchase. So, to close out today’s overview, I offer you here Mark’s testimonial tips on where you can go for the utmost, tip-top, no-holds-barred, best-of-the-best ukuleles possible! Here’s what he had to say:

 

Talsma Ukuleles logo“The uke I use the most personally was handmade by Dave Talsma. You can find him at Dave Talsma.com. His shop is in Swartz Creek, Michigan, so I can drive to him if necessary. Warren Buffett owns one of his ukes! I figured if he got one, I should too, since he’s got enough money to buy ANYTHING!”

 

Franks Uke & Guitar
My Franks babies hangin’ in the studio (right & lower left)!

Lastly, I have to also tell you about the luthier who hand-built my own soprano ukulele, Mr. Mike Franks. He’s become quite the renown builder of ukes and guitars; his instruments are now sold worldwide and he has a solid, loyal following that often buys multiple guitars from him frequently.

 

To the right you can see the acoustic guitar and soprano ukulele that he constructed from scratch (as I got to watch!) and are without question two of the top instruments in my whole studio.

 

Franks logoTHIS PAGE, on Mike’s website, shows you everything you need to know about why his renown has grown exponentially over the last few years. If you’re truly serious about a well-intoned, professional’s ukulele, by all means give his carefully handcrafted instruments a look.

 

Time to Hula Down the Beach!

 

You’re going to have BIG SMALL FUN with the friendly, smile-inducing ukulele, that’s a given. I know these insights and recommendations, based on my own experience and that of other professionals, will help you reach volcanic heights of musical exploration and creation.

 

 

I’d like to give a BIG shout-out to my friend and adroit uke aficionado Mark Swarthout for giving us his insights that helped direct this post into the best pics for you at this point in time. Products change every year, but the options outlined above are excellent choices for you right now!

 

Finally, if there wasn’t already enough incentive to go ahead and get that uke and start strumming, take it from no other than one of our greatest music legends, from the Beatles himself, Mr. George Harrison! Here’s his advice:

Harrison Uke Note

 

I think we’d be wise to take his “sound advice”! I know I already have… for years now!!

 

Now, go order that dream uke, get your nimble wrist ready for strummin’, and go… make… sounds!!!

 

Teaj

The Crate BT50 Bass Amp – Solid WHOMP For The Hard-Edged Player!

 

Close up on BT50 amp

Sometimes fate has a way of smiling on you when you least expect it.

 

And sometimes… it smiles with GEAR.

 

My example is the Crate BT50 bass amp. It came to me kind of on accident, from checking out an ad for something else in Craigslist. Now, my Live Room will never be the same.

 

Lemme tell ya why…

My Big Bottom Destiny

I’d been searching for a good deal on a Telecaster-type guitar for a couple years, when one weekend I saw one, in good shape, listed by an owner in my area.

 

But they not only wanted to get rid of the guitar; they had a few other pieces they wanted gone too. The whole kit and caboodle of equipment they put it up at one exceptional price, and even put “Or best offer” to top it all off.

 

Well, if you’ve hung around here long enough, you know I’m a gear nut, so the chance to investigate some really fine equipment at a low cost sparked my wires immediately. I was soon handing over my hard-earned cash to the owner and driving home with the new, groovy booty!

 

Full disclosure here: I’m a tube amp guy. Always have been, since I was a teenager. I think that’s mostly because when solid state amps first came out, I thought they sounded SO fake, and SO plastic that I wouldn’t go anywhere near them. I always thought the same about Crate. And since they went out of business in 1997, I figured it was because we all thought they sounded like the south end of a northbound Alpaca. I’ve also heard from a repair guy who calls their amps “Cold Solder Joint Crates”, as they’re frequently brought in with that electronics problem.

 

That’s probably still true to a large extent, but my mind has changed on one thing: there IS a place for solid-state amps in the studio.

 

My non-deliberate acquiring of this amp (my first solid-state EVER) has opened my eyes a bit about their capabilities, and, depending on what it is you’re trying to sound like and deliver, it just might be an asset to your axe-enhancing arsenal.

 

So, am I no longer a tube amp guy?? Hardly. I still think tube amps are the sizzle in my scha-mizzle. But at least now I know… there’s more than one way to groove a big bottom!

Inspect those Specs

As usual, let’s get the specs list out of the way. The BT50 comes standard equipped with:

 

  • Crate 12″ bass driver, 8 Ohms
  • Output Power Rating: 50W RMS 2% THD, 4, 120 VAC
  • Gain: Distortion 104dB;  Clean 63dB;  CD Input 37dB
  • Topside Chromatic tuner
  • Octave Control
  • A Distortion channel with gain, shape, & level
  • A Clean channel with level, 4-band EQ, & footswitchable octave with level
  • Signal Limiter
  • Internal Noise Gate
  • Headphone jack
  • CD input (RCA)
  • CFS2 Footswitch Included
  • 21″W x 18″H x 14″D
  • 46 lbs.

 

Not bad at all for an amp that retailed for under $300!!

 

I also find that it is getting a consistent 4.5 customer satisfaction rating no matter which pro audio store I check into. That also speaks volumes about this amps longevity.

 

This amp is now discontinued, but I thought I’d do this article since I still see a LOT of them out there used. I know I like to read actual user’s reviews before I pull the trigger on used gear, so… here we go!

Tone from the Deep!

I played through my tube amp first, just to wrap my ears around what the usual sound is that I use when recording in the studio. I used my Hohner Active B2-A headless bass, into my Bugera Veyron amp, going into my Ampeg 1×12 cabinet. For both amps I used the same cable, a Fender “Vintage Voltage”.

 

Here are the settings that I normally use when recording on my Bugera:

 

Bugera bass amp settings

 

Then I plugged into the Crate amp, turned it on and played my first notes.

 

WHOA!! Two big immediate things I noticed:

 

  1. The Midrange on this amp is extremely pronounced, with all the knobs set midway. Definitely need some adjusting to take out that wonky nasality!
  2. This amp has obviously spent many a night in smoke-filled bars. Either that, or there’s an eighty-seven years old chain-smoker living underneath all that fuzzy tilex!!!

 

Crate BT50 Clean settingsI started with all the setting in the middle, at high noon. In that setting, this amp was WAAAAAY to midrangey for my tastes. I immediately turned the mids down, and adjusted the other EQ knobs too. Finally, I carved out a usable sound that I could play and record with. The settings I landed on are in the pic to the left.

 

First up, we’ll examine…

 

The CLEAN Channel

This amp gives a lot of definition to every note you play on this Clean channel. My tube amp gives notes a kind of luxury halo of angora warmth around all the notes, which of course I LIKE. But if you want really, really defined notes, with no fuzzy anything of any kind, this solid state amp will give it to you.

 

I tried various turns of the Master, versus the Level knob, but found that they didn’t give me any considerable change in tone by doing so, as other amps sometimes do. They’re just going to adjust your volumes, end of story.

 

The Manual says there’s an internal Noise Gate, but it must not be on this channel, because I don’t hear it kicking in, no matter how soft I play and let the note fade.

 

I think I’ll use this channel for bass on an upcoming Pop/Rock track I’ll be recording soon. I think it would work well for it, and it’ll be good to try some new bass hardware in a mix for a change.

 

After all, pretty much everything can sound good in a mix, if it’s treated right and placed with an experienced ear.

 

Next, let’s look at…

 

The DISTORTION Channel

Wow. When they say Distortion… they really mean Distortion! This is NOT a subtle effect, folks. Even turned just one degree up, the notes are instantly painted with obvious, gritty growl. And when you get to nine o’clock, only a quarter turn up? It is total in-your-face SMACK DOWN!BT50 Distortion Section

 

I honestly doubt I will ever use this channel, because it’s SOOO over-the-top, but I’ll say this… if you’re a Metal musician and are into that kind of tone within the constructs of your songs, this effect is MONSTER. You should definitely give it a listen.

 

Oh, and there’s the Noise Gate! Guess they felt like they needed it on this dirty channel but not so much on the Clean. Not a bug deal though, as most of us who play out know how to keep our bass beasts tame between songs or before or after the gig.

Let’s talk about this “Shape” button. It’s a weird entity. Unique, to be sure; I’ve never encountered anything like it before.

 

To my ears it has three distinct “zones”, and in each one it affects the sound differently. Here’s how I’d break it down:

 

  1. Knob all the way left: This has the most bass frequencies, and also has a noticeable compression circuit on it.
  2. Knob at high noon middle: This setting is the least compressed. You can play quiet, and loud, and clearly hear the difference between them.
  3. Knob all the way right: This setting gets rid of pretty much all the bass frequencies, and you’re left with a setting that could work very well if you wanted to do a rippin’ bass solo, complete with distortion. If the psyche of Eddie Van Halen suddenly took over your bass player mind, you’d want this setting.

 

The Extra Bits

BT50 on-top Tuner!Ok, I love, love, LOVE the fact that not only is there a built-in TUNER, but that they put it ON TOP of the amp so it’s clearly there to see when you’re standing up playing. Way to go, Crate – you win the Mod of the Day Award!!

 

It works well too. By using the tuner, my bass sounded very well-tempered and right on pitch.

 

It’s also great that it’s a CHROMATIC tuner, not just a 4-note jobbie. For bassists that play in alternate or drop-down tunings, this is a real asset.

 

Next, I have to say that I’m also now a fan of the OCTAVE Control now, because of this amp. How cool! The dial allows you to seep in tones one octave DOWN from whatever you’re playing. I’ve seen this effect done with pedals before, but I’ve not seen it built into an amp. And it works really well too. Pretty sweet!

 

You can have the effect brash and obvious, but I found I liked it at about eight o’clock – barely on. This gives you enough that you can hear it when you play very high up the neck, but down in normal positions where we have to riff most of the time it’s too subtle to hear.

 

But you felt it! YESSSSS!!

 

I found the CHORUS to be quite good-sounding, actually. A real compliment to the sound, no matter what setting you put it on.

 

The Reverb, on the other hand, sounded a bit “meh”. Not very convincing or flattering. More of a fake effect than giving it a true “room presence”. Still, if you want some depth to your tone, you can dial it in so you can just barely hear it and the quality (or lack thereof) won’t be as obvious.

 

Jacks on the BT50

The Headphone Jack and the CD/iPod Input you pretty much expect on a lot of these combo amps, so nothing special there. Plugging into the headphone jack DOES defeat the speaker, FYI, which is generally how you want these wired. I mean, why bother Grandma with Pantera if you don’t have to, right??   😉

 

The Big Bottom Line

 

The sound of this amp is soooooo completely different from my higher-end bass tube amp, but I’m actually glad – now I have a fresh variation of bass timbres to throw into whatever song calls for it. Having more options is always a good thing, right?!

 

BT50 with basses

Clean channel? Very good, IF you EQ it right and don’t mind a very defined, solid-state sound.

 

Distortion channel? So in-your-face, you’ve got to really like that kind of delivery to choose it for anything.

 

Effects? Chorus: great. Reverb: adequate. Octave Control: easy to use and cool for some parts

 

Pros:

  • Another very different amp tone for the arsenal
  • Snarling distortion if that’s your thing
  • Chromatic tuner on top is the bomb
  • Octave Control is really pretty sweet
  • Loud enough to warrant it being a great practice/rehearsal amp
  • CHEAP!

 

Cons:

  • Very midrangey. I only found one EQ setting that I liked
  • Distortion is one-dimensional & VERY heavy, akin to a rusty chainsaw
  • No warmth to the tone. Somewhat artificial-sounding

 

I’m using this amp in my Live Room now, where I and other musicians practice or rehearse for a show, and it’s a good fit. It has enough volume (if the settings are right, avoiding compression) and you can dial in a good workable tone. Sure, it will never lose that solid-state-construction sound, but that’s okay. Horses for courses.

 

Got other questions? Already own a Crate amp and want to chime in?? Think this amp would be better if it were covered with leather leopard-skin pants??!! Let us know in the Comments. All personalized animal pants are welcome here, without judgement.     lol

 

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

 

 

 

How To Play Guitar For Beginners, Part 4 – Practicing Like A Legend!!

Blue Guitar Boy CARTOONED

John Coltrane.

 

Eddie Van Halen.

 

Charlie Parker.

 

Andrés Segovia.

 

Sean Barrett.

 

Steve Vai.

 

All famous musicians known for their extensive commitment to practicing. We’re talking hours, people. Hours and hours and hours and HOURS. Every day, at least for a certain period in their lives.

 

If we’re gonna talk about how to play guitar for beginners, it’s important to know right up front that if you want to succeed with your instrument, you absolutely have to spend time on your instrument.

 

I love this quote from one of our most beloved musicians of the last century, Louis Armstrong:

 

“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.”

 

 

True dat, Louis!

 

If you ever have hopes of playing live for an audience, you will need the fruit of legendary practice – sustained intensity, well-rounded technique, and unflinching control, for extended periods of time.

 

To pull that off, a few minutes on your axe every couple day just isn’t going to cut it.

Nature vs. Nurture Woodshedding

But even if we put the time in, will it be enough??

 

You’ve probably heard the statistic mentioned everywhere from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book “Outliers” that stated “10,000 hours” is the magic bullet number for those who have a goal to master any ability. Pretty cool, really. That means any of us can master anything, IF we just put the time in and are patient.

 

But recently an interesting study from Michigan State University found sizable proof that those who have become legendary musicians probably got that way from their propensity to practice, and, even more interesting, that that propensity is often DNA-coded, not something we can muster up.

 

What does that mean? It means that some of us really have to work at just sitting down to practice. Anything! Genetically speaking, some of us are coded to really enjoy sitting in our rooms, day after day, month after month, year upon year, focused and wholly investigating our instrument(s) of choice without even any outside influence telling us to. It comes naturally (I’m looking at YOU, Dave Frank!).

 

It’s are gift, really. But what about the others? Well, there will always be some who, honestly, would rather be doing something else. Now, maybe that something else is what THEY are genetically gifted at and their genes are wooing them towards what they SHOULD be putting time into.

 

One thing’s for sure: we’ll never know unless we just try; give it a shot. Put in your best effort, with excellent guidance, and see what the pay-off is. We’re probably all genius at something. We just have to experiment in life to find what those somethings are.

 

But let’s say we really believe (at least for now) that music is a path we must pursue. Well, if we want to make advances in our musical technique and understanding then (and eventually play for someone besides our family at Thanksgiving), we’ve got to put some stakes in the ground that set our parameters for successful and ongoing, committed practicing. That’s the only thing that will get us there – the intention to improve.

 

So, how do we do that? Funny you should ask that… ! 😮

An Axe in the Hand is Worth… ?

Get those guitars out of their cases!
Get those guitars out of their cases!

It really doesn’t take that much time, but it’s really true that, for most people, they will practice faaaaaar less if their music equipment is put away, in cases, in a closet, on a shelf somewhere, and not immediately at their disposal.

 

There’s such an easy remedy to this and I recommend everyone reading this who wants to seriously pursue music take it to heart: keep your instrument easy to get to.

 

All my instruments are out. Out of the cases. Within easy reach, all nicely organized in my studio “live room”. Countless times, I have walked by one of these and, with no forethought at all of practicing, I have picked one up and played, usually for at least 20 minutes or more.

 

What does this show? It proves that, for me at least, if I keep my instruments handy, I’m reminded of how cool it is to play that keyboard, bass, guitar, sax, trumpet… WHATEVER, and I often find myself playing just for the fun of it. Which is, of course, why we should be practicing ALWAYS.

 

Wall of Guitars
My Wall of Guitars

What do you think the odds are that you’d benefit from this same approach too? I think they’re probably pretty high… !

One Switch Away from Jammin’!Beginner Guitar Amp

The same holds true for your outboard gear. If you have guitar effects and great amps, are they out, ready to play through at a moment’s notice?? If not, you’re virtually shooting down any chance that you’ll play for fun, for hours, and get significantly better without even knowing it.

 

The picture to the right shows my current practice set-up. On top is an amp that I don’t use live, and only occasionally for recording. It’s perfect for practicing though: 50 watts, on-board reverb and chorus, clean and distortion channels… everything ya need to practice all genres, styles and techniques for hours.

 

Notice that the cable is in it, so all I have to do is take a guitar down off the wall, plug in, and turn the amp on. DONE! Let the shredding COMMENCE!!

 

Got a favorite pedal, or pedalboard, that gives you mind-bending effects that thrill you, rock you, rock your world?? Then have those plugged in too – with all systems go at the drop of a pick!

 

You’ll have more fun than Taylor Swift in a new relationship!! lol

Hard, Soft… Whatever!

Because we’re truly in the Digital Age, I know that some of you don’t even own a single, hardware amp. That’s alright; we know you’re sold on the convenience of having everything “in the box”. That’s cool. With thousands of tones and timbres right at your trembling fingertips, who wouldn’t want that??

 

I will say this though: getting a computer turned on, and then calling up all the various software programs and plugins you might need or want is going to take A LOT longer than just switching on an amp and playing. Remember, the goal here is to make the time it takes to actually start playing as short as possible.

 

With that in mind, I would encourage you to just get a hardware amp. It can be cheap. Doesn’t matter. It’s going to cause you to practice more than the computer drudgery you have to slog through, I guarantee you. Go to Craigslist. Ebay. Music-Go-Round. I’m sure you’ll find a slough of inexpensive amps, all under $100, spread out across your area.

 

Unless you live in Montana.

 

Or Alaska.

 

Then… you… might have to drive farther.

 

In any case, get an amp, set it out, ready and waiting for your loving touch, and then, anytime you’ve got a couple minutes, call it to life in TWO SECONDS for a run of fun and chops-building. You can’t beat it for maximizing the chances of you being easily drawn to play.

Is that a Band in your Pocket??

Playing with a band is the total bomb, as you know if you’ve ever done it. But practicing can be, by comparison, a drudgery, since most of the time you have to invest in your progress alone.

 

Well, not necessarily… ! I suggest you take advantage of a plethora of “band backing tracks” that are everywhere these days. It’s like having a band in your pocket, that you can pull out anytime and they’ll provide you with great-sounding songs to solo over, or to work chords with, and all you have to do, again… is push a button!

 

IPod loaded for guitar practice

All the music from the resources below are loaded onto my IPod, which (as you can see in the picture) is already plugged into my sound system, ready to play. I turn on the sound system, I push play on the IPod… voila! My backing band is making me sound like a million bucks!

 

There are so, so many to choose from, but let me just share with you my favorites, that I still use to this day and have SO MUCH FUN playing to:

 

Stand-Alone Tracks

These books all come with a CD of music attached (if you don’t know what a CD is, don’t tell me… I wanna keep feeling YOUNG!!). Each book concentrates on a specific style of music. I own almost all of them, including:

 

Click on any of those links to check out the book and get it sent to your practice lounge A.S.A.P.!

 

 

These books don’t have actual hit songs in them, but they do emulate hit songs by writing jams that sound very much like the tunes you know and love, but they’re just different enough to where they won’t get in trouble with the Copyright police!

 

These are also tremendously helpful in the teaching environments. Any of my students who are studying soloing have heard from me to get whichever of these books interests them, and then jam as often as possible. This is not hard to do with these books, because they sound so familiar and set your chops free to just explore like Lukather the wonders of your fretboard!

 

The Big Book of Backing Tracks

If I had to choose just ONE reference asset it would be this book by Chad Johnson. This thing has almost every genre you could ever want to practice, all in many keys, handily organized and well-recorded so the band sounds tight and well-rehearsed.

 

I have practiced to this countless times (on sax too!), and I’ve never grown tired of it. There’s simply too many styles, keys, genres and grooves to ever get bored.

 

All the songs come on a thumb drive so all ya do is plug in and download. Then, put ’em on whatever device you want and they’ll be right there waiting for you, whenever the urge to burn up the fretboard takes you!

 

CLICK HERE to get it. You’ll be glad you did!

 

Staying Shred-Ready!

 

 

One thing’s certain – we can never practice enough. All I have to do is watch a one-on-one lesson with Lukather, Carlton or Graydon… the heroes of our craft, and I know – this boy needs some serious WOODSHEDDIN’!!

 

But if you set your practice area up like I have, with everything at the ready, I’d put ten-to-one odds down that you’ll be practicing a heck of a lot more than you ever have… and giving all those rockin’ legends a fresh, snarky run for their music money!

 

So keep your axe at hand, cable up a practice amp, keep your backing band at the ready, and then go do what it takes, to become a legend in your own way.

 

If you’re starting out on your incredible guitar adventure, check out these other articles in the series for lots of help and insight:

 

  1. Part One: Beavis-to-Keaggy Mastery Awaits You
  2. Part Two: Wield That Weapon With Style
  3. Part Three: The Juke Box Hero’s Quest

 

So go get ’em! Seize this epic musical journey, and never, ever forget… to go… make… sounds!!

 

Teaj

 

 

 

 

The Telecaster – How A ‘Snow Shovel’ Rocks My World!

Dude with TeleCASTER67 years ago it started.

 

In a flash of inspiration, it was considered.

 

With months of innovation, it was designed.

 

After months of perspiration, the unveiling took place!

 

At long last, the world was allowed to gaze upon, in all its glory…

 

… the “snow shovel”!!!

 

Well, actually, no. It wasn’t a snow shovel. It was the brand new guitar product that the Fender company had just launched called “the Telecaster”. But, unfortunately, there were loads of critics, disparaging of the new look and design, that CALLED it a snow shovel.

 

And a boat paddle.

 

And other epithets unmentionable in mixed company.

 

That’s okay though, because the designers, not the critics, were on the right side of history in this scenario.

 

Let’s take a look at why!

Telecaster History

Hard to believe, but 1951 was the very first year that a mass-produced, Spanish-style electric guitar with a solid body appeared on our planet. Wow. What in the world did players DO before then?!!

 

Fender hit it outta the park on the Telecaster, although it took a couple years before all the detractors were hit were silenced and their ‘snow shovels’ put back in the woodshed where they belonged.

 

Soon the list of Telecaster adherents began to grow, and in the end, it was a long one! Here’s just a sample of the pro players that have made the Telecaster part of their ongoing arsenal of sound:

 

  • Buck Owens
  • Eric Clapton
  • Jimmy Page
  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Muddy Waters
  • B.B. King
  • Pete Townshend
  • Syd Barrett
  • Albert Lee
  • Keith Richards
  • George Harrison
  • Andy Summers (the Police)
  • Steve Howe (Yes)
  • Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)

 

All these players, and many more, found the bright, clean timbre of the Tele just the ticket for cutting through a live band mix, whether in concert and in the recording studio. Soon the obscure, new “boat paddle” was a regular part of the touring, working guitarist’s equipment entourage, indispensable and expected, rather than indefensible and neglected.

 

What’s more, the simple, no-frills approach the guitar takes makes for few repairs needed over time, so word of its dependability and road-worthiness grew exponentially over time.

 

The 60s, especially, saw an explosion of Telecaster interest, mostly due to incredible players who ALL played on Telecasters at one time or another… heroes like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Syd Barrett, and yet another acclaimed Beatle – George Harrison (“Ticket To Ride”, anyone?!).

 

Now, here we are, decades later, and the appeal of the Fender Telecaster has yet to be dimmed. For a complete look at all the varieties of Teles that Fender offers, check out THIS PAGE on their website. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the drool that could short out your computer keyboard.

 

In fact, it even reached… li’l ole me…

Needing that Tasty Twang!

Like many before me, I began looking for a Telecaster because of a song. UNlike many before me, the song was… my own.

 

It’s a habit of mine to try to write songs in different ways, starting with different instruments. Without question, it keeps me from EVER, in my life, going through a dry spell. I’ve never had one. I just… keep… writing… !

 

Drums lead to Telecasters!So I began to write a tune on the drums. I came up with what I considered a fun, shuffle rhythm, with a few differing sections, then laid it down in Pro Tools.

 

Next, I thought it sounded like it was crying out for a cool, funky, clean rhythm guitar track. So… I donned my Paul Reed Smith (a Strat, mind you), set it to detente 2, midway between my neck and mid pickup, and began to create.

 

Immediately, (riffing off of how the drums were inspiring me) I found myself playing palm-muted, chicken-picking funk riffs. Talk about fun! I improv’ed a bunch until I landed on a few choice phrases that seemed to form out the song.

 

Laying it down in Pro Tools, I was pleased. BUT… it was missing something. I knew right away what it was. The combination of the drum beat and my newly-composed staccato, clean riffs was, to my ears, DEMANDING that it be a Telecaster playing, not a Strat.

This would be an easy fix… IF I HAD ONLY OWNED A TELE!! lol

 

Yes, my friends, true and relentless G.A.S. had struck once again, and I was the eager victim. That balance between human need, dream and desire had once again been knocked all wobbly! I was teetering… on the brink… desperate.

 

One thing was certain – I HAD to have a Tele!

 

The Proliferation of Awesome

So, I started looking, and OOOoohh, man… the possibilities were limitless! I had no idea I’d find so many different Telecaster-type guitars to choose from.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? If so, the Telecaster has been complimented more times over than Allan Holdsworth used 4-note-per-string scales!

 

Just a cursory look through Google today showed me the following companies that ALL had Telecaster-type guitars on sale, right now, TODAY:

 

  • Fender (of course)
  • G&L
  • Kiesel
  • Cozart
  • Johnson
  • King
  • Sawtooth
  • LDG
  • Chapman
  • Warmoth
  • Hohner
  • Switch
  • Hiawatha
  • Schecter
  • Effin
  • Tom Anderson
  • Sims
  • Charvel
  • Lotus
  • Bill Lawrence
  • ESP
  • Michael Kelly
  • Suhr
  • Indio
  • First Act
  • Trinity River
  • Top Custom
  • Farmhouse

 

I finally gave up searching when I reached the “Farmhouse” guitar (“Yee-haw.”), but there’s probably even MORE options that I just didn’t get to.

 

Still not enough choices for ya? Well, then there are kits and/or parts manufacturers that set you up to BUILD YOUR OWN, having what’s called a “Partscaster”. Some kits and parts are licensed by Fender. Most are not.

 

Enough options for ya yet??! lol

 

According to Fender (whom I just called and talked to “Chris”) the only truly LICENSED companies to manufacturer Telecaster clones are Warmoth and G&L. All the rest avoid litigation by making sure the Fender headstock shape & Fender decal/logo are not used.

 

Are they all equal. Hardly. That’s why it’s important to do your research on whatever piece of gear you’re gas-ing for. Here at Seriousgas we really put gear through its paces to find out how it really stacks up against the competition, complete with the recording I make in my studio with it. GO HERE for a good example.

 

As they say, “the tape don’t lie”.

 

I’m putting together a Telecaster shoot-out in the studio for release soon, so stay tuned for those recordings.

 

For the moment though, let me introduce you now to my own world of spanky tone… !

 

My Tele!!

The Austin AU962 Tele-style guitar
The Austin AU962 Tele-style guitar

I was VERY fortunate to find (through Craigslist, actually) my Austin AU962 Tele guitar. Once I knew I needed the Tele tone for that song, I went on the hunt, and almost got three or four other Teles of differing brands, but at the last minute (literally, in one case!), someone else bought ’em.

 

Ahhh, but then…

 

I saw an ad that had come out only 2 hours previous. The axe looked beautiful, and looking at the pickups and parts, I knew it wouldn’t be a bad choice. Immediately I called and within 2 hours, this gorgeous Austin was in my lick-ready hands!

 

Here are the specs:

 

  • Austin “Era-’62 Professional Deluxe” guitar, model AU962
  • Solid Alder Body
  • Quilt Maple Veneer with “Amber Burst” finish
  • Maple Neck with Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Wilkinson Alnico-V Vintage Single-coil
  • Wilkinson Mini-humbucking Pickup
  • Single-ply Creme Binding
  • Wilkinson “Classic” T-style 3-saddle ashtray bridge
  • Three-position Pickup Selector Switch,
  • Volume knob, & Tone “push/pull pot” for tapping the pickup
  • Wilkinson Die-cast Tuners
  • Bright Chrome Hardware
  • 3×3 headstock with matching finish
  • Original MSRP: $449.

 

Austin Telecaster back viewI had the pleasure of speaking with Rich Dumstorff who is the “Vice-President of SLM Marketplace” & the Product Manager for all things Austin. He filled me in a lot about my guitar’s history.

 

He told me that Austin started out in ’94 or ’95 as a “catalog brand” for the St. Louis Music, a family-owned company, begun in 1922, for whom he still works. A catalog brand of instruments allows any mainstreet store (i.e. not a franchise) wanting introductory or intermediate guitars to buy as many, or as few, as they want.

 

This is a great incentive for smaller stores, since most of the big companies want you to sign contracts which obligate you to buy A LOT of guitars from them each year. Catalog brands help “the little guys” compete with big box stores, by offering quality instruments at a competitive price point. This helps to keep these small music stores alive, year after year, here in the land of opportunity.

 

Rich said my guitar is anywhere from 15 to 20 years old, and that it was made when Austin was trying to become a “player’s brand” and make a name with high-end players. Today, Austin has no such dreams of grandeur – they are unapologetically a beginners/hobbyists brand and probably will continue to serve their stores as such.

 

This is great news for me, since my guitar was manufactured to higher standards to what’s currently offered. Back then, these instruments were made in Korea, and at that time the quality was on par with Japan’s export standard, which was quite high, and very much UNlike what was coming out of China.

 

He further clarified that today Austin guitars are probably analogous in quality to what the Fender Squires offer, but that my older Austin is, and I quote, “… WAY better”.

 

I like the sounds of that. And I’d have to agree.

 

Oh, yea… Rich also helped me bust a myth I came across online that said Austin guitars were created by a couple guys who left Fender and used what they learned there to construct the Austins.

 

Not true at all. The REAL story is that when the catalog brand of guitars at St. Louis Music, called “Series 10” guitars started to become somewhat “long in the tooth”, the company decided to up the quality and change the name. The Product Manager at St. Louis Music at the time had a son named Austin, and in true “daddy loves his boy” fashion, the new line was given his moniker. There was never any tie to Fender whatsoever.

Austin guitars logo

 

Myth BUSTED. lol

 

The current website for all Austin guitars in production can be found at www.austingtr.com.

 

As an interesting side note, their parent company, St. Louis Music, also manufactures and distributes all Alverez instruments and supplies.

Tone is Everything

The pickups on my TelecasterThe tone of my Austin rivals certain Telecaster models extremely well. Obviously, the Fender Telecaster has not stayed the same through the decades; certain little changes came and went, and some different pickup combinations were offered here and there to appeal to players who wanted a Telecaster but with a bit of a different sound.

 

Mine, for example, does not have the iconic single coil neck pickup that you see on stereotypical Telecasters. Instead, I have a mini-humbucker. I really like this for one simple reason: it’s quieter. Most of what I do is in the studio, so, when I’m recording, the last thing I need is a bunch of noise messing up my perfect take.

 

Which is always the first take, right? LOL

 

This humbucker is a very warm, fat sounding pickup. It sounds to me almost “Gibson” in tone, but is modeled after the humbucking pickups Fender put on their Telecasters starting in 1968. Definitely more of a jazz or “singing lead” type tonality. Because I record a lot, I typically don’t want a guitar sound that “fills the room” so much, so this neck setting probably gets the least use. It IS, however, by far the quietest pup choice on this axe!

 

Now, if I combine both pickups with the selector, I have two choices: first, if I DON’T pop up the tapping knob, I get a bit of nasality in the tone that I don’t prefer usually. It’s pretty midrangey, which might actually work great for some mixes, but alone sounds a bit “meh”.

 

Austin Telecaster pickup selector
Notice the Tone knob UP for my favorite tones!

My second option though is sweet! If I pop the tapping knob up, I get this great, perfect rhythm sound that’s not the overly bright crisp tone that the Tele is known for, but rather a nicely balanced, not-too-full, but not-too-chirpy clean guitar tone that I can use for most anything. LOVE that setting!

 

But what about the “classic twang” sound?? Isn’t that what the Telecaster is known for? Yup, and I get that too: I just slap the selector down to the bridge pickup, pop up the tone knob, which taps the pickup, and lordy, lordy… I’d swear I was in Bakersfield in Buck Owen’s band. Just the ticket for showing off those crispy, fast Nashville bluegrass licks. Or, as is my penchant, playing Joe Walsh’s “Funk #49” – it sounds amazing!!

 

If I don’t pop up the tapping knob in bridge position, it has a similar tone but not as shrill. Much of the slap, chirp and pop is dialed down significantly, leaving just a brighter essential tone. Still good for soloing but for more the rock traditional kind of approach (“Stairway to Heaven”, I presume??). I’d probably not use the pick and middle-finger dual picking method on this setting.

 

I’d say that’s a lot of versatility in one guitar, wouldn’t you? It’s not a one-trick pony by any means, which means it’s especially good for a live playing tool.

 

There’s one thing I actually don’t like about my Austin though, and I’m probably going to remedy it soon: the tuners. Instead of a hole in the tuning peg, they just have a cleft cut in the peg on the top, so the string just sits in there and slips out waaaay too easily and often when I’m changing the strings.

 

Hate that.

 

It’s poles apart from my favorite tuning peg design, which is on my Paul Reed Smith (check that beauty out HERE).

 

Austin Telecaster headstockBut, as we know, guitars are all about tone, and I’m really, really pleased with this Austin. Considering that even the Standard Mexican Telecasters are three to four TIMES the price of this guitar, yet I still get that classic sound on my recordings… how can I not wear a cowboy pickin’ and grinnin’?!

 

Oh, and finally I have to mention a cool feature on this axe that is a departure from normal Tele practices: Austin chose (in a blink of genius!) to put the selector switch between the Volume and Tone knobs. Why is this cool? Because some Fender Telecaster players have mentioned that occasionally they’ll hit the selector by accident while playing, because it’s above the knobs and right where your downward stroke will hit it. Austin solved this issue in their design, and I’m a fan.

 

It’s Gonna Be a Bright, Bright, Sunshiny Tone!

Got your own case of G.A.S. for this legend of a guitar?? There’s plenty of variations to choose from, as I mentioned above, but if you want THE one and only, unadulterated, iconic, American-made classic, go FIND IT HERE!

 

Since getting a Tele, I’m seeing all kinds of new ways of playing that I’ve never considered before, all inspired by this outstanding instrument. Funny, isn’t it, how getting a new axe can really widen not only your tonal prospects, but your technical mastery as well?!

 

Maybe you already own a Tele? Or maybe you’ve owned many? Whatever the case, let us know how it’s worked for you, and share your road stories of this all-time favorite of guitars. We’ll be waiting to hear your tall tale, to help us all when we get that Telecaster G.A.S. tease cracklin’ in our bellies!

 

That’s all for this post. So join me: pick up a Tele, and go… make… sounds!!

 

Twangy Teaj

 

Working For Music – ‘Til We Can’t Get It Wrong!!

I was reading some musician’s opinions about DW drums last night on DrummerWorld.com (an excellent resource for real-world drum gear insights!) when a forum contributor said this:

 

“Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”

 

Wow. What a GREAT quote. After years of gig prep and woodshedding, I know exactly what they mean… and couldn’t agree more!

 

These days though, fewer people are working for music than ever. Why? Digital music trends mostly. Unfortunately, music streaming has had a hugely detrimental effect on musician’s INCOME streaming. For specifics on that, read the bad news in THIS POST.

 

I want us to consider today WHY and HOW we should continue pouring our time and energy into music, despite bad news, bad timing, bad labels, bad revenues… bad whatever!

 

There are more reasons than ever.

 

Crazy Much??

Some of you may have read Sean Barrett’s excellent Part One article on “Gain Staging” here at SeriousGas. If you’re a guitarist and you haven’t check it out HERE. You’ll be glad you did.

 

I was talking with him yesterday about some music business decisions I’m making, and how so many old avenues of the biz don’t work anymore, but I’m still at, still pursuing it, despite those who say it’s crazy to try anymore.

 

He responded with what I have already known for years:

 

“It’s in you. You can’t NOT do it (music). It’s what you were made to do.”

 

He was right. No matter what obstacles I’ve faced in my decades in the music industry, it’s always come back, for me, to one thing: the SONG. Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to excel at, and now, decades later, it feels great to see that I not only understand the intricacies of songwriting more than ever before, and still utterly enjoy pouring into this craft as well.

 

Now that’s what I call a winning combination!

 

Have you been told that you’re crazy to pursue something? Are others pointing you to safer, more consistent but also more mundane and unfulfilling work?

 

There are times when we must bite the bullet and work something just to be responsible, but let me encourage you to also… be crazy! Never let your passions lie neglected. Even if it means you work the dream AFTER your day job and on the weekends, eventually, if you keep at it, you’ll probably be able to leave that dead-end workplace behind.

 

But that’s only if… you don’t give up.

 

Music as Meditation

I had a thought recently that was new, intriguing, and regards music and life in general. It didn’t come from reading, or watching a YouTube video, or talking to a fellow audio engineer or musician. Instead, it came from just putting my own personal “2 and 2” together…

 

I like to meditate. Usually for 20 minutes at a time. I have a special chair that I sit in (one o’ those cool “kneeling chairs” that I finally bit the bullet and bought!) that I put in front of the clear-windowed sliding glass doors that lead out from our living room and face the east.

 

In the morning, when the sun has risen above the trees at the edge of our backyard, its warm streaming goodness spills all upon and around me as I take a few moments to just… clear my head… breathe, and let go the torrents of demanding inner monologues and emergency sirens that so often keep our attentions.

 

Buddha, and Christ, both talked about it: be here. Now. Live in this moment. Take it in. Appreciate it for what it is… for what you are… right now.

 

What I realized this month is that music, and practicing, can be approached with this kind of mindset. In fact, I think most of us who practice already do this, without even really knowing it.

 

This all came from a comment someone made that basically said, “You musicians must live a lot in the moment since you are concentrating so much on what you’re playing.”

 

By Jove, he’s right! I thought about this as I practiced a song soon after, and thought, “I am so dedicating all my senses to this music right NOW. It really is partly like meditation.”

 

The only thing lacking for most of us is to simply recognize that; to, as we play, think deliberately “This music, my music, IS this moment. The music, my listeners, myself… we all… exist together, right here, in this moment… together.”

 

Talk about being one with everything!

 

I think we can listen to music this way too – using it to anchor us to the present passing seconds, and feeling the appreciation for life as our favorite music washes the stresses of the past and the future away on a tide of temporary irrelevance.

 

Try it. You may find Zen isn’t so foreign and far after all. 😉

 

Being Better Without Trying

Your axe in your hand is worth two in the Guitar Center, right?! No one will refute that practicing does wonders for your technique.

 

But too often I’ve seen musicians waaaaay too tense during practicing. This not only promotes bad technique, it allows psychiatrists to make waaaay too much money off their anxiety, and eventually… they retire in the Bahamas off of YOUR STRESS!

 

So, let’s not give our money and control away so easily. We can do this, but we can do it WITHOUT tension about the past, present or future.

 

I put it this way to all my beginner students: “Don’t try to play better, faster, stronger, bluesier, with more swing, more legato, more staccato… whatever!! Just PLAY. And when you do… enjoy it. Have FUN. If you do this, you’ll get better naturally, without even trying.”

 

After all, that IS what we do with music, right?? We PLAY it.

 

What is certain is that if you practice daily, with joy and excitement and the focus that comes from real, undying interest… guess what – you WILL get better, faster, stronger, bluesier, with more swing, more legato, more staccato, ETC. As Roxette says on one of their latest albums, “It Just Happens”!! Or as I tell my students, “practice makes progress”. Notice I did NOT say perfect. In art, there’s usually no such thing.

 

So don’t stress out. Just pick up your instrument and always make it a point to remember why you first got into this instrument – because you were interested in it, and it soon became FUN.

 

As you continue to just play for the sheer pleasure of it, you’ll find yourself becoming, more and more, a stellar musician. And THAT is surely one great reason to keep up the good work in music.

 

How do You Measure YOUR Success?

I’m in the middle of recording a brand new tune to release as my latest single. It is taking WEEKS of focus, skill and effort to bring to completion. I’m doing the majority of it all by myself in my studio.

 

When I’m finished I’ll upload it on various Indie music sites and see what happens.

 

It could very well go viral! Or it could only get a few hundred hits and just sit there. Is either result better? Well, if we want success and profit, then obviously the first one.

 

But what if the measure of our success was not profit? Or fame? Or exposure? What if the simple act of creating and then setting the creation free was our most desired reward??

 

It’s hard to live in the real world and not expect, yea, even demand, recompense for our efforts. We gotta eat, right?? But the need to make money off of our art can often lead us down avenues of focus that aren’t even true to who we are or what we want to really do.

 

And then there’s the nasty side-effects: disappointment, or worse, depression, if our efforts don’t launch us into financial stratospheres like we hoped.

 

I went to an Art Fair this past weekend. There were, as usual, all kinds of art products. Some made me think, “What a cool idea!”. Others made me think, “That’s just… kinda dumb”.

 

One of my friends was there selling some of her art products for only the second time. She was lucky, in that she cleared her expenditures. But did she make a lot more than that? Not really.

 

So she should give up, right?? Stick to her dependable day job, slink down into the coach of consistency and turn the tube on after another inane work day ’til bedtime. Yes??

 

Forgive me if I say, “Not unless you absolutely HAVE to!” I’ve certainly worked my share of jobs that weren’t what I was really skilled at. Still do occasionally. But I’ve never given up the dream of making my TOTAL living off of what I’m really good at. For me, that happens to be songwriting and producing in the studio.

 

How about you? What’s your dream? What are you really good at? What “fills your tank”??

 

I once heard a great bit of advice. It goes like this: “Where your joy & passion meets the world’s need, THAT is where you should be spending your time.”

 

Sounds like what I would call real success.

 

Here’s hoping you soon find the prosperous road to the top of your passion’s ladder, whatever it may be!

 

What Are All These Tools??!

These days, it’s not all about the music anymore. Unless you have a major record contract, where everything is provided and done for you except the music, you must be working at other things if you want your songs to fly into people’s hearts, where they belong.

 

Software programs, hardware options, social media platforms, merch manufacturer decisions, agents and managers research, website integration – these are all things that matter now almost as much as the melodies that pour out of your instrument of choice.

 

The new normal is that more and more of most of those proliferate every day, making our ability to hone things done to the essentials more elusive than ever. Just yesterday I discovered yet ANOTHER digital music marketing website, guaranteeing (don’t they all) that theirs is the site you should be on, if you want artist success and recognition.

 

It’s clear that if we want to keep apace in today’s music market, we must apply our nose to the social media grindstone right up there with our recording and live concert equipment. These are the new weapons of advancement, and we must keep them sharp and wield them diligently if we’re to make a lasting impact.

 

The good news is… they’re FUN! Since starting up this website I’ve applied myself to Twitter, Instagram, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Facebook, and I’ve gotta say… they’re quite enjoyable. I make it a point not to spend to long on each one, lest my day suddenly be over before I’ve even written anything! But if you’re careful, social media can be as creative as music, just in different ways.

 

The same can be said for all the new music production tools we have today, both in hardware and software. Yes, there’s always a learning curve; some are worse than others. But if you approach it as an entertaining, empowering experience, that will leave you stronger and more skillful than ever in your music, then you can fly through those 3x-transliterated User Manuals in no time. Heck, ya might even learn a little Japanese. So keep at it!

 

And now… a Piece in 7/4!

In my 20s, I read a book full of wisdom that has stayed with me and still inspires me to this day. It’s called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, by author Stephen Covey.

 

This read had an immediate impact on me; I instantly began to look at my daily routines through a lens of focused relevance, something I had not been very deliberate about before.

 

Its principles have proven to have a life-long effect my decision-making. It’s now years later, but I still make decisions about just about everything with the seven principles in mind. Covey’s insights and suggestions have consistently helped align my internal compass with, what I believe, is what matters most, and how we should truly define success.

 

In fact, I can easily say this: of all the life-counsel books I’ve ever read, I would place this one in the number two slot, right behind the Bible. So much of the time, other self-help books just sound like they’re trying to be Covey, but not quite making it.

 

If you haven’t read Stephen’s excellent resource, I highly suggest you PICK IT UP HERE and apply the principles to your own passions and life path. You’ll soon find your inner man or woman flourishing and thriving… becoming truly profitable, in all the most important ways.

 

Why You’ll Win the War

I can think of no better way to end today’s post than to quote one of my life’s heroes, Winston Churchill, from one of the greatest speeches he ever gave, right in the middle of World War II, to his Alma Mater Harrow School. For anyone wondering if continuing to work for music and success in this field is worth it, let his words speak to you how they will:

 

“Never give in – never, never, never, never… in nothing, great or small, large or petty; never give in, except to convictions of honor, and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

 

Never give in.

 

Whatever “enemy” might be trying to derail your success train in music, let Winson’s words be a wind in your sail today, blowing you to pleasant harbors where the winds whisper… “Winning!”

 

I’ll be watching for your success.

 

Now, go… make… sounds!!

 

Teaj

 

 

The Hohner B2 bass – You Never Forget Your First!

It was 1996.

 

The Goo Goo Dolls were telling us all about some girl named “Iris“.The Hohner B2 badging

 

Alanis Morissette was incorrectly schooling us on what “Ironic” means.

 

And Oasis? They were making me sing right out loud and proud whenever their “Champagne Supernova” came on the station. All in all, it was a good year for music.

 

And a good year to MAKE music. Which is why that year… I bought a Hohner B2 bass!

 

It’s now (amazingly!!) 22 years later, and my little headless friend and I are still at it, bringing song ideas to life… with some solid low end.

 

I Like Big BOTTOM and I Cannot Lie…

I was working in the 90s at Sweetwater Sound, the best pro audio store in the country (IMHO!). Not only was their selection vast, but their knowledge base and professional staff were just what I wanted to take my sound understandings to the next level.

 

I got my Hohner at sweetwater (They’re still the best, by the way. I honestly don’t think any other music store comes close.)

 

After work hours, I continued my lifelong pursuit of songwriting -and the accompanying privilege of recording those songs I wrote to capture them for all time in whatever format was available at the time. That year… it was digital DAT.

 

Before this time, I had always asked other bass players to help me with what some former girlfriends carried proudly: the “big bottom”. I’d learned to never underestimate its power. lol

 

Regardless, I ended up typically not satisfied with how the bass parts of others meshed with my material.

 

Rather than complain, it was time to step up and put my fingers where my dissatisfaction was – it was time to get my own bass!

 

Low, and Behold… !

A fellow audio sales engineer just happened to hear that I was looking for a bass. Before I could slap my cash down for a new one (at our discount, of course) he proffered, “Hey! Buy my Steinberg clone. I’ll give it to ya cheapie-like!”

 

He brought it in the next day for me to test drive. He said he’d used it for years, that it was bought sometime around ’91, although it was made around 1988. It still looked in great shape, so five years and my friend’s hands had treated it kindly.the B2 leg rest

 

We plugged it through one of the amps there at the store and I played through some changes. I liked it! I was impressed by its unique look, lightweight feel and stable, consistent sound.

 

I think I recall him asking me for $200. Well, that was just my kind of “affordable”, so the deal was done. I took that puppy home and started immediately scoring out a bass line for my latest tune at the time, which was called “Long Way Down”.

 

I soon discovered that I really liked writing bass lines. It was so different from playing guitar, yet, at the same time, just as gratifying.

 

Within a couple weeks I was in a local studio putting down the guitars, bass and vocals. A drummer for hire did the rest.

 

I still have the recording. In prep for this article I pulled it up and listened. It sounded even better than I remember: full-bodied, rich… with just enough transient sheen to keep the notes sounding well-defined but not ostentatious. Another solid bass track for posterity – CHECK!

 

Steinberg Starts the Fever!

The Hohner B2 is basically a visual clone of the famous Steinberger L Series basses that came to be so acclaimed in the 80s. The first bass Steinberger made, the L2, was introduced at a N.A.M.M. show in 1979, where he sold three prototypes, including one which was bought by one of my favorite bass players, the greatly inimitable Mr. Tony Levin.

The B2 bridge & tuners
The B2 bridge & tuners

These basses stood out immediately for numerous reasons:

 

  • They were shaped like an oar
  • They were made completely out of a graphite & carbon fiber blend
  • They used strings that had balls at both ends
  • They used EMG pickups, which at the time were not that well-known, & sounded very different
  • The tuners were at the bottom of the guitar
  • Most surprising, the guitar headstock was… missing!! They didn’t need one!
Ned and his bass creation!
Ned and his bass creation!

Not so surprising then that, two years later, Time Magazine was giving the Steinberger Bass the honor of being in its “Top 5 Best Designs Of 1981”. Quite the BIG splash for the young upstart!

 

People kind of either loved or hated the Steinbergers. Because of design and graphite materials used, the basses sounded ultra clean, precise and tonally even. This was either a blessing, or a curse, depending on your tonal and technical preference.

 

Steinberger made the most of the love/hate relationship though, proudly using as one of the company’s slogans: “We don’t make ’em like they used to!”

 

The Hohner Low DownThe Hohner B2

As we all know in the world of merchandise, if it’s popular… there will be knock-offs. Both here and in other countries. In line with that truism, there are plenty of other companies that have copied these esteemed basses throughout the years. Hohner, however, was the only company at the time to actually LICENSE their product designs through Steinberger, essentially getting their permission to copy their look, if not their unique sound.

 

For that reason, many of the parts on the B2 bass come straight from the Steinberger company, the most important being the rock-steady bridge and tuner assembly. The leg rest that folds out from the body also came from Steinberger.

 

The biggest difference between the B2 and a real Steinberger is the body: the Hohner sports an all-MAPLE body – specifically, it’s a full-scale one-piece maple neck and body that is complemented with two maple “wings” that are attached on either side of the strings to give it that “oar shape” look.

 

The Steinberger, on the other hand, saved a lot of trees – it consisted, as mentioned above, of a one-piece, completely man-made graphite epoxy body. This big change gave the instrument a much different EQ spectrum and sound, and is what separated it from all other basses (and later guitars too) from that time period.

 

Because the Hohner is made of wood, it sounds, by comparison to the Steinberger, much more like a normal bass. Listening back to the first bass track I did with the Hohner, for example, gave me no impression that the bass used was at all unusual. It sounded much like what some of my other “normal” basses sound like.

 

the B2 pickups
The B2 uses Hohner pickups instead of EMGs

The Steinberger L2 also had real EMG pickups and active circuitry. The B2 is rather a completely passive instrument, with no active circuitry. It has two humbucking pickup but they are not EMG; instead they are some of Hohner’s own pickups. They work well, though your range of tones is limited.

 

One other difference between the Steiny and the B2 is the answer to the age-old question: “How’s it hangin’, bro?!” See, the two companies used different strap placements. This actually ends up putting the B2 at a disadvantage – when playing with a strap the neck feels longer than a normal bass, just because of how it sits against your body.

 

In other words, if you closed your eyes and went for what you would normally know as the first fret, you’ll end up on the third fret. The first fret feels farther away than any other bass I’ve ever played. The Steinberger, with its different strap tab placement, didn’t have this problem.

 

There are numerous hacks, like Augusto’s HERE. Or you can buy the Steinberger strap extension, but, it’s, uh… $150 last time I checked. I think Augusto’s hack is a muuuuch better option.

 

Or just get used to it like me. Seriously, I just laid tracks with it this week. At first, yea, it felt a little weird, but in a few minutes I hardly noticed it. So you reach a little further? Big deal. It’s about the sound, man… !

 

Sub Those Sonics

So what’s the difference really?? Well, if you like the LOOK of the Steinberger axes, but prefer a more “traditional” sound, then the Hohner clones are a great choice for you. If the Steinberger SOUND is what you’re after, then the Hohner won’t take you there. You’re simply going to have to spend the extra money (and I mean a LOT more extra money!!) and get a real Steinberger.

 

It doesn’t give you a lot of options. Instead, if you want a good, usable bass tone right out of the gate, you’ve got two pickups that give you two approaches immediately. Pick one and you’re off to the races.

 

I would say the Hohner is a little more mid-range strong than other basses. This is probably because of it being made of maple and having a smaller body. This mid-range power I find to work really well in the context of a modern pop or rock band. It stands out just enough without muddying up the floor, so to speak, with its pal the kick drum.

 

Want a bass that can sound like anything?? Then the Hohner is not for you. It’s humble in that way; no ostentatious posturing here, just two basic track-worthy tones… but with a look that’ll turn heads every time you play it!

 

The B2 sting slots
The B2 sting slots

That String Thing

Yet another way that you’ll be veering off the beaten path by buying either a Steinberger or any of its licensed (or even UNlicensed!) clones, is that you will not be buying regular bass strings anymore. Instead, you’ll need to buy “double ball end” strings.

 

This string difference is one of the ways Steinberger was able to revolutionize the industry. Of course, it also was in his best financial interest to create this new kind of string, since his company could sell it at a premium price, before the patent wore out and all the other string companies could make their own versions.

 

These days you’ll have to shell out anywhere from $30 to $70 for a set of strings, which isn’t bad at all considering how long they last. When the Steinys first came out the strings were WAAAAY pricier, so thank heaven for the free market economy and time!

 

How Deep Is Your… Wallet?!

If you wanted to get a Steinberger bass back in the day, you would spend HUNDREDS more than the Hohner licensed model. Perhaps even a THOUSAND dollars more! This is why I never seriously considered getting a real Steiny… they were (and still are) too @#$!% expensive.

 

Even today, if you want to pick up one of the original L Series models (not the cheaper and lower-in-quality “Spirit” or “Synapse” models), you’re talking over $1,000, easy. Is the Steinberger a superior instrument in many respects? I’d definitely say “yes”… but you pay BIG TIME for those superlatives!

 

If money is no issue to you though, and you want the bass that started all the fuss… the REAL DEAL, then I suggest you contact Don at HEADLESSUSA.COM. If what you want is available anywhere, Don will know, and he’s got an excellent reputation for going above and beyond during the sales process.

 

I must warn you though – the price tags are not for the faint of heart. If you want an authentic L Series Steinberger you’re talking upwards of five to nine THOUSAND dollars.

 

See. Not for the faint of heart indeed!

 

On the other hand, you can get a Hohner like mine, or even one of the higher models that feature active pickups, or sweepable EQ, for LESS than a thousand. Check EBay or Reverb.com for your best options.

 

In fact, I see quite a few going for less than $500 RIGHT NOW. Yes, the sound will be more what you expect, a wooden body tonality. But unless you are absolutely sold on the Graphite Epoxy sound, the Hohner did, and continues to do, an excellent job, both in the studio or out live.

 

Layin’ Down the Boom

Since listening to the B2 bass on the recording I did in ’96, I was so pleased with its sound I decided to get it vibratin’ once again and use it to lay down a bass track on an upbeat, happy Sheryl Crow-type song I wrote last week. See if it still has that maverick mojo, ya know?

 

Once again, I am pleased to say the results are everything I hoped for! It performed consistently and magnificently. I used mostly the neck pickup, although with about 25% of the bridge pickup also in the blend, and the tone knob was all the way up into treble land. Sitting in my mix right now, it has the perfect tone for this easy summer pop tune.

 

A nice reminder of just how easy and pleasant it is to use this bass. 🙂

 

And just so you know, I don’t ONLY play basses that are light as a feather. If you read THIS POST about my Bass Mods bass, you’ll see what I mean!!

 

Hope you enjoyed this look at a rare beast in the audio world, still alive and kickin’ it in the studio, with that 80s, flashy styling – the Hohner B2 Bass!

 

Do you own a Steinberger or a Hohner? Perhaps even one of their 6-string guitars?? Or perhaps a model with more bells and whistles to fiddle with and direct your tone?? Tell us about it in the comments. We’d love to hear YOUR story!

 

Until then, you know what to do: slip on your favorite axe and go… make… sounds!!

 

Teaj

 

All You Need Is Ears – The Autobiography of Beatles Producer George Martin!!

Everyone remembers their first time.

 

For me, it was a summer’s day in L.A. Reseda, specifically, in the San Fernando Valley.

 

It was at my apartment, after work. My two roommates were gone, and wouldn’t be home for a few hours. It was the perfect time to lay back and… get a little action in.

 

She and I were there for a reason. And we were close. I could feel her ever-so-slightly touching my arm. It may have looked casual, but I was oh-soooo attentive!

 

So I laid on the couch, right next to where the air conditioner was blowing in the coolest air within a hundred feet… and just listened. For a long time. I knew that all you need is ears to make a big difference in what, and how, she gives.

 

When it was obvious that all the words had ended, we sat mesmerized for a few seconds, just taking it all in.

 

Then… with respectful reverie, and slow motion impulse… I picked her up… and played a couple chords.

 

Yes, my friends, that was the day I listened to my first Beatles album. Just me and my guitar. Both of us would never be the same again.

 

What? Whaddya mean?? Of course, I was talking about my guitar… whadja think I was talking about?? ‘-p

 

Yes It Is… the 5th Beatle!

George Martin - backstage_at_LOVE
George Martin, backstage at LOVE (Adamsharp)

The late Sir George Henry Martin was not only the Beatle’s record producer – he was a producer extraordinaire for hundreds of acts. His list of number one hits blows most of us away: THIRTY number-one hit singles in the U.K. and TWENTY-THREE number-one hits in the U.S. of A. Wow!!

 

The Queen of England appreciated his legendary expertise so much that in 1996 she bestowed upon him the honor of a “Knight Bachelor”, in thanks for years of outstanding work, and for making England a consistent magical garden for world-renowned musical exports.

 

There are veeeeery few producers who have accomplished number 1 records in three or more consecutive decades. Martin is one of them (1960s, 1970s, 1980s, & 1990s).

 

He also has a loooong list of accolades and music business wins. Here are just a few:

 

  • The 1967 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
  • The 1967 Grammy Award for Album of the Year (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”)
  • The 1973 Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Accompanying Vocalist(s) (“Live and Let Die“)
  • The 1977 BRIT Award for Best British Producer (of the past 25 years!!).
  • The 1984 BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution To Music
  • The 1993 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album (The Who’s Tommy)
  • The 2007 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media, producer together with his son Giles Martin (Loveby the Beatles)

 

The list goes on and on. But, of course, he shall forever be most fondly remembered by most of us for helping create albums by the Beatles, that to this day transcend the moments of their making and reach us deeply decades and decades later.

 

His family shall always remember him that way too, because his Coat of Arms still hangs in their homes as a reminder – the honorary shield features three beetles, a house martin bird which is holding a recorder, and one simple phrase in Latin:

All You Need Is Ears book
MY 1st edition copy!

 

Amore Solum Opus Est.”

 

All you need is love. 🙂

 

Paperback Writer

Sir George penned his auto-biography in 1979. The music business and the recording industry were SOOOO different then, as you shall hear in the upcoming snippets.

 

It is one of my favorite books concerning music and recording that I’ve ever read, and it’s also a book that I re-read often. He passes on so many helpful insights, as well as dozens of entertaining reminiscences… you just don’t want to put the book down once you pick it up!

 

It’s not a technical manual for engineers by any means. He keeps it light so the layman reader won’t get lost in pro audio gobbledygook. But neither is it devoid of recording methodology. He talks at length about how they recorded many things in the studios of his career, especially what worked… and what didn’t!

 

My hope is that, if you’ve never read this literary mine of pure audio gold, you’ll change that today. This book is too good to miss if you’re serious about the music business, recording methods or the timeless qualities of an effective music producer, either for your own music or the music of others.

 

Let’s hear what a master has to say, shall we?!

 

The Inner Light

Whenever we try to understand the choices a genius makes, or why an artistic, genre-veering decision was made over another more mundane, expected one, it’s important to get a sense for how the person thinks – how they approach their art from the inside outward.

 

Sir George gave us many glimpses of this throughout his book. My favorite among them is this one:

 

My own copy of their masterpiece
My own copy of their masterpiece

“For me, making a record is like painting a picture. Not only are we painting sound pictures, but our pallet is infinite. We can, if we wish, use any sound in the universe, from the sound of a whale mating to that of a Tibetan wood instrument, from the legitimate Orchestra to synthesized sounds.

 

That may be why, of all painters, my favorites are the Impressionists: Renoir; Degas; Monet; Van Gogh; Sisley. It’s surely no coincidence that they seem to match so well almost as visual counterparts to the music of my favorite composers Debussy and Ravel.

 

With John Lennon at Abbey Road
With John Lennon at Abbey Road

The fascination of recording is that you really do have an unlimited range of musical colors to use. That’s one of the main reasons why I enjoyed working with the Beatles so much, because our success won me artistic freedom.”

 

I found that Martin is also not a precision nut, in that he’s more about the performance having life, excitement, depth and/or energy than being technically perfect. I’m the same way. I have often left a vocal in on certain songs that wasn’t totally dead-on in regard to pitch, but was close enough, and was couched in a tremendous performance that we really the best take.

 

Why mess that up, right?! Martin agrees, and puts it this way:

 

“I’m not a stickler for accuracy. If that was the be-all and end-all, we might as well give up and let computers do all the work. I happen to like a little bit of inaccuracy, a little bit of humanity. Perfect beauty, whether in a woman or anything else… tends to be a bore, and I think that holds true for music.”

 

Come Together

The late Sir George Martin shares many anecdotes about his history with some of the most well-known artists on the planet. And he never comes across as anything but gracious, thankful and devoted to be the very best producer he can be.

 

But part of making music, at least in most cases, is working with other people. Other aaaaaartists. And that’s not always easy when you’re the Producer. It wasn’t at first for him, at least.

 

Listening to him tell of the first time he told a jazz musician that the bassist sounded ‘muddy’ and imprecise is so funny, but it hits home, right? We want the best sounds, but we also have to learn how to best communicate with artistic temperaments to commit the best music to posterity.

 

Sir George Martin lecturing
Sir George Martin lecturing

Here’s how Sir George handles the coming together of the technical team and the artists:

 

“Tact is the “sin qua non” of being record producer. One has to tread a fine line between, on the one hand, submitting to an artist’s every whim, and on the other, throwing one’s weight around.

 

I had to learn how to get my own way without letting the performer realize what was happening. One had to lead rather than drive. I think that now, as then, that’s probably the most important quality needed in a record producer.”

 

I also first gleaned from Sir George some specific tasks that a “producer” of music might shoot toward, whether mine or someone else’s. Being “a producer” sounds important, but do we really have defined parameters about what it means??

 

Here is what it meant to him:

 

(In regard to the Beatles):“There were four musicians: three guitarists and a drummer, and my role was to make sure that they

 

  1. made a concise commercial statement;
  2. that it ran for approximately 2 and 1/2 minutes,
  3. that it was in the right key for their voices,
  4. that it was tidy,
  5. with the right proportion and form.”

 

Hearing the act of producing described this way, I started to think about each of those whenever I got behind the console. To this day, I question each of those elements whenever I think an arrangement or a mix is “finished”. Guess you could say my final act is to “George it”, and that usually means… I find something that needs fixed!

 

He also was one not to dabble too much in the engineering side of things. He started as an engineer, so he knew how to do it quite well, but to Sir George is was more a matter of focus… :

 

George Martin checking the mix in the cans
Always check the mix in the cans!

“There’s a race of men who are producer-engineers; they combine both functions. In theory, I could do that, but I do not think it is a very good idea. I would not be able to see the wood for the trees. The essence of a producer’s job is to be impartial. He must be able to see the whole picture, and make a value judgment as quickly as possible.

 

But when you are playing about with Equalization knobs, trimming limiters and compressors, varying the amounts of echo or reverberation time, and involving yourself in a million other technical activities, you tend not to listen to the music. And I am rather single-minded about that.

 

“The Producer’s function is to listen to the sound and to the music as an overall unit together, and from that he must judge the recording. An engineer’s function is to ensure that, technically, it is the very best recording obtainable. If they are worrying about each other’s area of responsibility, they are not doing their jobs properly.”

 

For most of my career, I’ve had to do most things myself. Even today I still wear the hat of engineer, producer, writer, performer, marketer, publisher… geez, I’m gettin’ tired just sayin’ ’em all!

 

But my dream?? To just be a Paul, or John, or George or Ringo… and let someone like Sir George Martin do all that other, so I can just write, and play, and sing…

 

and write, and play, and sing…

 

and write, and play, and sing…

 

and write…

 

Who’s wi’ me?!! 😉

 

Abbey Road Studios 2007
Abbey Road Studios 2007

Norwegian Wood (Studio!)

Recording music always has to take place somewhere, and maybe you, like me, have been dreaming most of your life about creating lasting songs from such a personal, perfected space.

 

It was from Sir George that I first began envisioning my own personal studio. From his years of experience I learned many things that I hadn’t yet heard up to that point. His stories of Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles recorded, and then his own AIR Studios, were inspirational. And still are.

 

One of them had to do with non-parallel walls. That’s something that’s hard to find in most buildings, but extremely helpful in being able to capture with mics an accurate sound picture without artificially amplifying certain frequencies. I still remember the first time reading how he put it:

 

“The ideal way of building reflective services for acoustic purposes in recording is to make them refract the sound. You make the sound waves bounce off a new direction rather than return the way they came.

 

The ideal studio, therefore, is one in which the walls are never parallel. It’s also preferable for them never to be straight. So the studio has to be a compromise.”

 

But he also confided that a studio is not one thing with one sound. It should have several options:

 

“At AIR (Martin’s studio) we generally have a hard floor in a fairly reflective ceiling at the string end of the studios (where he records orchestras). We keep one end of the studio live, and the other, where I normally put the Rhythm Section, dead.”

 

Inside Abbey_Road_Studios for orchestral_recording, Studio 2
Inside Abbey Road Studios for orchestral recording, Studio 2

He went on to describe many other important attributes of ‘what makes a good studio’, and I learned much from what he imparted. Basically, I credit him for making me believe I could have a studio of my own one day.

 

I do not, however, typically record drums the way he did in the early days. Check this out:

 

“I tend to be quite extravagant in my use of tracks for rhythm. I usually have the bass drum on its own track, then two tracks for the stereo overhead sound of the drums in order to get an ambient ‘feel’, and a fourth track for the snare drum. That’s four tracks for drums alone!”

 

Okay, so… it’s clear that extravagance changes from decade to decade. I understand why he says this, because when the Beatles first started they only had TWO TRACKS to record onto. That’s what you hear on their first two albums. So using 4 mics just for the drums was probably considered “pushing it” back then.

 

Anyone wanna guess how many mics I bring into Pro Tools from my red Pearl studio drum kit? Try THIRTEEN!!

 

Sorry, Sir George. I’m just an audio glutton! lol

 

You Never Give Me Your Money

That’s what songwriters say to today’s streaming websites. LOL

 

Seriously though, these days, if you’re a songwriter, you’re in hard times. Harder than I’ve seen in my lifetime. I know, ‘cuz I’m one.

 

You know what’s astounding?? To think that, not that long ago, a songwriter could make an amazing living doing what they’re best at. Those were the days before streaming… before ITunes… before Napster kicked the ball right outta the stadium.

 

Martin, with his engineer Geoff Emerick & America
Martin, with his engineer Geoff Emerick & America

But when Martin was producing, it was much different…

 

“If an album in America goes gold – that is if it sells half a million copies – it will earn the producer a small fortune. The retail price of an album is about $8. A 3% royalty works out at something over 20 cents an album. So a “gold” album means $100,000 for the producer.

 

With the successes that I have had in producing the group “America” – records like “History”, “Hideaway” “holiday” and “hearts” – I was bringing in something like half a million dollars a year.”

 

Sir George - among the top brass!
Sir George – among the top brass!

Eight Days A Week!

As grandiose as having all that cash sounds, it did not come without serious commitment, and extended periods of hard, focused work. No record exec was just handing out money. They expected results, something that Martin deftly provided. He says that in the early days…

 

“For the Beatles we agreed that, if possible, we would release a single every 3 months, and a long playing record every year.

 

It seemed to work: out of the 52 weeks of 1963 we topped the charts no less than 37 times.

 

Sleep was something of a luxury that year.”

 

Lest we think that Sir George had to live at the studio and never see friends or family for decades, it’s very eye-opening to hear the typical recording schedule that it took during his early days. It suuuuuure isn’t this way now…

 

“We have come a long way from that first Beatles album, “Please Please Me”, which I started at 10 o’clock one February morning in 1963, and which was all mixed and ready for issue by eleven o’clock that night!”

 

Um, uh… yea. Okay, I’m not even going to mention how long ONE SONG on my latest album took.

 

It wasn’t one day, that’s for sure!!!

 

With A Little Help From My Friends

Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966
George & the boys, 1966

It’s quite fascinating to hear how Sir George views the Beatles, obviously. He was there, all the time, with them, for almost every song, every recording, every vocal where the lyrics were finally nailed down and committed to. Amazing. True to what I always suspected, based on what I heard on every Beatles album, Martin describes the hierarchy in the studio with the band this way:

 

“I must emphasize that (in the Beatles) it was a team effort. Without my arrangements and scoring, very many of the records would not have sounded as they do. Whether they would have been any better, I cannot say. They might have been. That is not modesty on my part; it is an attempt to give a factual picture of the relationship.

 

But equally, there’s no doubt in my mind that the main talent of that whole era came from Paul and John. George, Ringo and myself were subsidiary talents. We were not five equal people artistically: two were very strong and the other three were also-rans.”

 

The Beatles, just hanging out in my studio
The Beatles, just hangin’ out in my studio

Martin’s respect for Paul and John is obvious throughout his book. I guess if we’d seen two people bring in hit after hit, year after year, not relying on the same ol’, same ol’, but constantly breaking new audio and songwriting barriers, we’d be pretty awe-struck too!

 

Of John, Sir George opines:

 

“John’s imagery is one of the great things about his work: “Tangerine trees”; “marmalade Skies”; “cellophane flowers”. I hope it doesn’t sound pretentious but I always saw him as an aural Salvador Dali, rather than some drug-ridden record artist.”

 

Of Paul, Martin stated what I’ve always thought of McCartney too, saying…

 

Beatles statues“Of the four, Paul was the one most likely to be a professional musician, in the sense of learning the trade, learning about notation, and harmony and counterpoint. He’s an excellent musical all-rounder: probably the best bass-guitar player there is, a first-class drummer, brilliant guitarist, and competent piano player.”

 

Martin goes on in the book to talk about how the Beatles had a perfect balance, both within and without (nod to George Harrison here). They knew enough about music to be dangerous, but were not so “schooled” that they couldn’t try things that to Martin were far afield from his classical music tradition.

 

Showing his smarts for the business, he never tried to force his style upon them. Rather, he did everything he could to complement their style with his musicianship.

 

In My Life

Martin with Paul & JohnSir George Martin is gone now. He passed in his sleep in 2006. But he is not forgotten. Nor shall he ever be. His legacy, and that of the Beatles, are too ingrained into our collective conscience.

 

For me, he shall continue to be a very present part of my life whenever I go into the studio to work on my art. I have dozens of my favorite albums hanging on my studio walls. His name is on many of them.

 

Thankfully, he not only wrote his wonderfully astute observations and informed preferences in his auto-biography, but also shared with us his smile and proper English lilting voice in numerous videos. If you have not yet seen these documentaries, GO BINGE ’em now! They are:

 

  • Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music, 2016 PBS film
  • Produced by George Martin, 2011 BBC film
  • The Rhythm of Life, 1997 BBC film

 

Finally, in writing this article, I was floored to find that the hardcover first-edition copy of “All You Need Is Ears”, just like mine, is selling online for upwards of $400! Wow!! I could sell it and get that new Nuemann mic I’ve been wanting… !

 

Alas for Neumann, I will never get rid of this book. It’s too precious, too insightful, too inspirational… and one of the best reads a musician, producer, engineer or songwriter could get.

 

GET IT HERE for yourself. You’ll see exactly what I mean.

 

 

In the meanwhile though, make like you’re a member of Sgt. Pepper’s band and go… make… sounds!!

 

Teaj