Monthly Archives: November 2013

Should old people leave the rock scene?

There is a global problem with young people being unemployed. In comparison baby boomers have done very well. Should older people step aside and leave the young people to set the trends? Some apply this to old rockers like the Rolling Stones saying that they’re taking the limelight and denying many young musicians a chance to showcase their creativity – see this recent op ed by social commentator Will Self. I disagree with his argument for three reasons:

1. The music industry does not have a finite carrying capacity – there is plenty of scope to impassion everyone to get into music and for the industry to grow. The arts are rarely limited by top-down authorities.

2. If anything the older you get the more skilled a musician and songwriter you become. We can learn from and admire old masters, and this can inspire younger people to strive harder.

3. The only musicians who are worth their salt can play well live. To hang up your performing shoes, “retire”, and simply sell records is a cop out. Real musicians play their songs live to an audience, and don’t rely on computers and touch ups after recording to make themselves sound good.

You might have your own reasons for not liking bands the Rolling Stones, but don’t let the length of their careers be one of them.


Buying a guitar? Seven things you must consider

At this time of year lots of people are buying Christmas presents. If you’re thinking of buying a guitar as a surprise present for someone special then DON’T. Instead take them on a surprise shopping trip or buy them a gift voucher for a local guitar store. Guitar players will know and feel what’s right, and even if the recipient is a complete beginner they should have a say before any purchase is made.

  1. Style over substance? It is worth spending lots of money on a guitar that looks a certain way when you can probably buy something that looks less assuming but sounds better?
  2. Wood. You may find a maple neck easier to move up and down on a fretwood than rosewood. This preference depends on your playing style.
  3. Pickup configuration. A strat style guitar with regular pickups is more suited to blues, jazz and rock, whereas something like a Les Paul or SG with humbucker pickups is more suited to heavier styles of music.
  4. SCREECH! If you want to sound like Steve Vai, Van Halen, or White Snake then you’ll need a guitar like an Ibanez with a floating tremolo to make the guitar screech.
  5. Weight. If you’re going to be standing playing your guitar for hours on end with it hanging around your neck.
  6. Secondhand guitars. You can make them feel new by getting the guitar setup, buying a fretboard cleaner, and putting on a fresh set of strings.
  7. Haggling You’re already spending a lot of money on a new guitar, see if you can get good accessories like cables, a case, or a guitar strap thrown in or heavily discounted.

The most important thing

Does the guitar feel right to you? Before you go to a guitar shop do your research about different makes and designs. Avoid the temptation to just order online – you need to play one first, in the same way that you wouldn’t buy a car before test driving the same model. When you get to the store pick up a guitar that looks right and play a variety of things on it. Test it out on a rig that’s similar to the one you have at home. Even if it feels perfect make sure you then try at least four other guitars in the shop to compare it with, including a type you might not have considered. You need to try a range of guitars before making your decision.


Quality guitar accessories

I’ve tried out a lot of different equipment for guitar over the years, some of it good, some of it mediocre. Most people (myself included) want to get the most for their money. Better to invest in something top quality and reliable than buy multiple items that do a half job. Here I share some products that I have found to be reliable:

Effects pedal – There are oodles of effects pedals out there. Most people own a variety. I particularly like my Electroharmonix Metal Muff distortion pedal. Custom pedals can create a unique sound, with some makers like Cog Effects from my native Sheffield can even include band logos on the pedal!

Recording cables – To record guitar using my iPad I use an iRig connector. Works a treat! Compatible with iPhone and iPod touch.

Guitar strings – For electric guitar strings I like Ernie Ball. For acoustic strings you might also like Martin’s. (Read about types of guitar strings and how to tune them.)

Flight case – I use an Adrenaline Flight Case to keep my instruments snug and safe on a plane. Robust! Faired better on a recent flight than my wife’s Tifosi bicycle case, which lost a wheel.


What to do with unwanted guitar equipment

Eco-friendly guitaring

Browsing the web for crazy things people make guitars out of is quite fun. It’s also interesting to read how some companies make their guitars – some, like Martin, are conscientious about their manufacturing waste. The flip side of considering eco-friendly materials when building or buying a guitar is figuring out how to responsibly dispose of existing guitars and accessories.


Yes, you could take your wooden acoustic guitar, remove the strings and pegs and just burn it, but that would be really sad. People are always taking up guitar, and tired old instruments can be given a fresh lease of life in the hands of a new owner. If you’ve got a functioning but unwanted guitar then sell it through local classifieds like Craigslist, ebay, or Reddit. Often it’s not worth your time marketing and shipping something that’s of small value. A better use of your time might be to just give it away, maybe by donating it to a charity shop or thrift store.


What to do about broken or surplus items? Lots of guitar equipment uses bits of metal and plastic that can be fiddly or even impossible to recycle. Many guitarists I speak to just throw stuff in the trash. Maybe that trash gets sorted by the waste company, but maybe not. There are options to take responsibility for your own guitar waste. I hope by demystifying the process to help make it easier for you to choose these options.

Worn or snapped guitar strings are on their own too small to warrant selling to a scrap merchant, but I recommend storing old strings, wires, cables, metal connectors etc. in a box with your other household metal waste like those old screws you find under the sofa. Small bits of metal including bass or guitar strings can be turned into jewellery like bracelets! Or once the box gets full and heavy take it down to a scrap metal dealership. They will happily take it off your hands and give you some cash in return (remember to take your ID with you). There is one scrap metal dealership just off Garner Rd in Raleigh, but it’s worth searching around to see who’s offering the best prices.

For faulty electronics and old cables keep an eye out for special electrical recycling facilities. Raleigh council offer residents the chance to drop it off for free directly at landfill sites. If you do this not only are you consigning some potentially useful material to be squished in the ground, but it is a waste of your time. Look for recycling options closer to home. At our apartment complex we have a special yellow bin just for recycling electrics, from batteries to switches and leads to small appliances. Some organisations specialise in preventing electronics ending up in landfill, and there’s one in the triangle – contact them to find out how you can best dispose of or pass on your unwanted or broken electrical items.

A final option is to take the item to a guitar shop you know offers repairs of electrical equipment. Maybe you’ve already bought new and don’t want it fixed, but someone else might like to buy a refurbished model.

If you have other ideas for how to responsibly dispose of guitar-related waste I’d be interested in hearing from you!


Resources to learn guitar

What’s the most effective way to learn guitar? Here are my top three tips.

  1. Little by little

    Often we start out with big dreams, we say things like “I want to be like Jimmy Hendrix”. This is great, but don’t make the mistake of expecting to achieve this overnight. Keep the goal in mind, but know that it will take work to get there. Plan how you’re going to get there in bitesize chunks.

  2. Little and often

    Make sure you’re always making progress by practicing daily, or as close to every day as you can. Half an hour each day is much better than a whole afternoon on a Saturday. If you’re finding something difficult try a little bit, then put down the instrument as pick it up tomorrow. If you achieve what you want to, revisit it and improve on it in your next practice.

  3. A little a lot

    Okay, my use of the word “little” fell down a bit here, but I had to repeat it because this point is about small, repetitive chunks. Once you can do something, say you’ve learnt a new scale, then by all means go away feeling happy, give yourself a small reward. Make sure you play it again soon, and repeatedly into the future. This will train your body and mind, getting the musical patterns into your muscle memory.

To avoid boredom when you’re revisiting things, try and mix it up a little. You could add in a solo improvisation, strum instead of pick (or vice versa), include a crescendo up to your favourite line, change the words in lines of a song, play an arpeggio instead of a scale, mix the verses of different songs, etc. What should you include in your guitar practices? Ideally a full body workout (kind of): This blog contains great ideas for range of things you should include in your practices.

Putting this into practice

If you’re new to guitar, forging a new habit with your playing, or just starting to plan your lessons this might all seem overwhelming. Firstly, break to job down into little chunks, and get experienced guidance. Ask your guitar teacher to help you plan your practices between lessons. Get your hands on good written material. Your local guitar shop might stock some recommended books, and you might also like to try these:


Unconventional guitar travel

How do you get around? Do you go by bus, car, or unicycle? In a busy urban environment sometimes it’s good to stand out and be different – out of that list of options I bet the unicycle stuck in your mind! Well I like to travel by bicycle. Getting around on a bike is just one way to stick out in Raleigh, and it’s a cheap, fast, and healthy mode of transport. If it gets people noticing me then it can’t be a bad thing.

One difficulty I have had is how to transport my guitar, song sheets, music stand, cables, pedals, amp, and a spare change of clothes on just two wheels pedaled by me.

With a soft guitar case on short trips I carry my guitar on my back using the case’s shoulder straps.

For longer trips, hard cases, and more equipment I need a bike trailer. We had a bike trailer in the UK that worked well for small errands, but it was too small for a guitar. Most trailers are designed for small children leaving scant space for your instrument. As well as looking out for special cargo trailers an important consideration will be the quality of the trailer. To transport heavy equipment like an amp a sturdy frame and axle are vital. I’m still searching for the best product for my purposes. Taking all my requirements into account I seem to be left with something functional, not at all stylish, and a lot like a golf caddy:

Not exactly the kind of image I wanted to portray! Needless to say I’m still hunting for the best means of comfortably transporting my equipment round with me.

One busker I saw in Washington DC carries all kinds on his guitar trailer – now that’s what I’m talking about!

Bicycle and trailer loaded with musical equipment
Guitarist near Du Pont in Washington DC transports lots of his equipment by bicycle.

Bicycle shops in Raleigh

If, like me, you’re looking to buy something cycling related, check out these local bike shops:

, Hillsborough St, Raleigh
, downtown Raleigh
, downtown Raleigh
, Falls of Neuse Rd, Raleigh
, two locations in Raleigh
, five dealerships in the triangle