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Types of Guitar Necks

Types of Guitar Necks

Hi – welcome back!  Today we’re gonna go “neck and neck”…

The wealth of instrument options for guitarists these days is just incredible. Just in terms of new guitars (ignoring all second-hand and vintage options) we are seriously spoiled for choice.

But this can be massively overwhelming for new players, even those who have made the seemingly simple choice between an electric or acoustic instrument. The options run much deeper than that basic decision – will that be acoustic or electro-acoustic, with or without a cutaway, parlor or super-jumbo size, regular or bowl-back, the list just goes on.

And as for electric guitar choice, are you a humbucker or single-coil fan, will you be having a tremolo with that, super or regular Strat, which exact shade of Peruvian mocha coffee-burst paint job (I made that last one up, although it’s probably an option somewhere) – you get the idea.

A matter of opinion?

To make things harder for the newbie entering this minefield of variety, there’s already a crazy amount of strongly-held opinion about what’s right and what’s wrong. A total rookie discussing instrument choice with a group of experienced guitarists could be forgiven for thinking they’d accidentally wandered into a contest between fans of McDonalds, BK and Wendy’s – you just know the argument’s not gonna end any time soon…

Most of this opinion is clearly going to be rubbish – people use all sorts of different guitars to play all sorts of different music. And – certain instruments will naturally suit certain styles more than others. It’s unlikely that James Hetfield will perform the next Metallica concert using a nylon-string classical acoustic for example.

But some debates about particular guitar features have become almost clichés. And one old chestnut that seemingly refuses to go away is the fixed vs bolt-on neck debate. Or rather some long-standing myths about these two main methods of constructing a guitar.

The most common myths seem to be;

Fixed’ or ‘Set’ neck = more expensive, higher-quality, better sustain, warmer tone, harder to repair

Bolt-on’ neck = cheaper, lower quality, less sustain, twangier tone, easier to repair

Are these myths? Or are there any shreds of truth here?

History

Well first let’s explain the basics with a little bit of back story.

The way that luthiers attached instrument necks to instrument bodies was pretty much standard for centuries. Everything from violins to the earliest guitars tended to feature a neck with a heel that was jointed and glued directly to the top end of the instrument body, providing a strong bond that could bear the string tension. This technique didn’t even change much during the earliest experiments with making solid-body electric guitars – Les Paul’s infamous prototype instrument “The Log” (first laughed at by Gibson in 1941) still featured a set neck of sorts.

Then in 1950 a man called Leo Fender introduced a new guitar called the Broadcaster, (subsequently renamed the Telecaster). Fender had refined his vision of an instrument designed primarily to be plugged in and amplified electrically; the simple solid body and bolt-on neck could be easily mass-produced, keeping down costs. These same principles were used just one year later on the Fender Precision – the world’s first real bass guitar. One completely new instrument construction method followed by one completely new instrument type in the space of two years. Not bad going!

With the arrival of the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster, it was clear by 1955 that solid-body electric guitars were very definitely here to stay. And so was the idea of the bolt-on neck, although at first this was very much a feature associated with Fender – other manufacturers (most notably Gibson) generally stuck to the set neck design.

So, you have more choices.  Is that a good thing?

Oh absolutely. But guitarists are more conservative than you’d think. And very predictably, certain trends and opinions quickly emerged surrounding the use of these instruments. Some people favored the Fender style, others preferred set-necks, and many from both camps insisted that their choice was the right choice! This is how myths are created.

Are they myths? Well, let’s take a more detailed look at the ones we mentioned earlier…

Price

Cheaper mass-production techniques were one of the reasons why Fender developed the bolt-on neck idea, and this method definitely lowers costs. Far-Eastern manufacturers were quick to cotton-on with their own even-cheaper reproductions, shortly followed by completely original new instruments using bolt-on necks.

So, in general terms, this might not be a myth. Although ‘cheaper’ is a relative term – Ibanez, Paul Reed Smith and ESP all currently offer bolt-on models at 4-figure prices. And you can pick up budget beginner guitars with set necks for less than $200.

Quality

A dangerously subjective term! The Gibson Les Paul mostly features mahogany in its many-layered body construction, whilst the Fender Stratocaster was originally machine-carved from a chunk of swamp ash. Some might think that makes the Gibson a higher-quality instrument. But I once witnessed a friend drop his ’56 Strat off a 4-foot stage during a gig. It just bounced off the concrete floor, and hardly picked up a dent. When he plugged it back in the thing didn’t even need re-tuning. Try THAT with a Les Paul if you dare…

Sustain

From an engineering standpoint, a tightly glued-in neck will theoretically do a better job of transferring vibrational energy through the entire instrument. Although a very tightly-fitted bolt-on neck, perhaps without any kind of lacquer or other finish applied to the physical joint sections of the body and neck (another common Fender feature) can achieve a similar effect. So can heavier strings. And a heavier bridge.

Tone

You could perhaps mix this with the engineering thoughts discussed above – the vibrational energy transfer may result in the ‘warmer tone’ that fixed-neck fanatics constantly bang on about. But a guitars quality of tone comes from many factors – wood choice, electrics, even position and weight of hardware.

Don’t forget that, back in the early days of solid-body electrics, the lightweight ash-bodied Fender guitars were almost exclusively fitted with single-coil pickups, whilst the heavyweight mahogany Gibson instruments usually had humbuckers (or the wonderfully thick-sounding P90’s). It’s not surprising that the Les Paul sound was seen as ‘rounder’ and the Tele/Strat sound as ‘snappier’. And don’t these stereotypes just hang around!

Ease of repair

No contest here; you can have the strings and neck removed from a Fender in under a minute. And you can also swap between necks – there’s a huge amount of choice in the Fender catalogue, enabling a player to have precisely the contour and feel that suits them. Ungluing and removing a Les Paul neck is a lengthy and tricky business, not to mention having to re-do the paint work once you’ve got a new neck in place.

Although most repair work to Les Paul’s fortunately just involves gluing smashed-off headstocks back into position (a very common job for guitar techs), and you don’t have to remove the entire neck to sort that issue out. Hooray.

Phew – that’s it for neck choice then. Isn’t it…?

Not quite. Fenders main innovations were nearly 70 years ago, remember. And while fixed and bolt-on necks remain the two most common methods for building guitars, there are other ways…

Neck-Thru

This simply involves a neck that runs the entire length of the guitar, from head to tail. Pickups and all bridge hardware get attached to the section that runs through the guitar ‘body’, which is basically wings that are attached to the top and bottom side. Amazing levels of sustain can be achieved with this kind of design, although removing the neck obviously isn’t an option! This kind of construction has always been more common in bass guitars, although Paul Bigsby and Merle Travis collaborated on an experimental solid-body 6-string built this way as far back as the late 1940’s.

One-piece construction

Basically, building an entire guitar, neck AND body, out of one single piece of material. This tends to result in some fantastically space-age designs – Steinberger and Bond both produced instruments in the 1980’s formed from a single molded piece of carbon-fiber. And Rickenbacker built a wooden prototype electric back in 1931 which featured a tiny circular body at the end of the neck to anchor the strings and mount the pickup. To imagine what that looked like, just consider its nickname – the ‘frying pan’.

Others

In terms of experimental alternative methods? Too many to list here. And lots of them involving solid metal – do a Google search for ‘Travis Bean’ if you’ve got time – one of the coolest examples (Slash is a big fan!)

 Wrapping it up

So, you may wonder – is there a logical and defensible conclusion that determines whether one style of neck joint is better than the other?

Nope – or if there is then I’m not fanning the flames of what I feel is a pointless argument. With the right control settings, amplifier and playing style, you could make a Les Paul sound like a Telecaster, or a Strat sound like a Rickenbacker (although you’d be hard pushed to make ANYTHING sound quite like a Gretsch, but that’s a different story…)

That’s just my opinion of course.

I’ve rambled on enough for this week.  As usual, keep your eyes peeled on your inbox for next week’s article.  Until then…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head

Melody – What It Is?

Melody – What It Is?

I’m back, …just when you thought it was safe to open your email…😊

We hear about melody constantly. It’s a major part of music and has been for centuries. But what exactly is a melody? There are several definitions that try to explain the concept. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines melody as “a sweet or agreeable succession or arrangement of sounds, a melody is a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying”. Then again, ‘satisfying to whom?’, you might ask. After all, I can think of several melodies that are not satisfying to me.

Wikipedia defines melody as a “linear succession of musical notes that the listener may perceive as a single entity”. Although a good definition, it leaves the door opened for potential differences in perception from the listener. Perhaps an accomplished professional musician might be more prone to recognizing a complex melody as so, whereas a common listener might not. Despite the limitations of these definitions, here we will try to explore what a melody is in order to have a better grasp on this concept. Let’s dive in!

A melody has rhythm incorporated

 Every melody has notes that have a particular duration. The duration of the notes is the rhythm. Some of the notes in the melody will be longer than others. That is what constitutes the rhythm. Oh, but what is the rhythm exactly? Well, if you want another Merriam-Webster definition, here it is: “rhythm is the aspect of music comprising all the elements (such as accent, meter, and tempo) that relate to forward movement”. Was that helpful? No? How about… rhythm in music is the placement of sounds in time.

Regardless of what definitions work best for you, the fact is that a melody has pitches with a specific duration, as well as incorporated pauses or rests. The duration of the pitches and the duration of the rests are what constitutes the rhythm.

Well-known melodies are easily recognizable

Regardless of who’s listening, there are some melodies that are recognized as such by most people. Remember “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? How about “Ode to Joy”? Those are instantly recognizable melodies. How about “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”? All of these fit all the definitions from above. They are a succession of pitches that happen to be recognizable and are also perceived as a unit.

All of these melodies also have pitches and rests of a particular duration. Remember “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Amazing Grace”? Those are also well-known melodies…

Melodies can be short, long, or anything in between

Let’s take the classic rock song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. What the lead singer sings is the melody of that song. It is also the most recognizable part of the song. Oh, but how about that immortal riff that Slash plays at the top and later on? That is also a melody. And, so is the three guitar solos on that song. There’s the first guitar solo/interlude, which is a melody. The second and longer guitar solo is also composed of melodies. And the very last guitar solo, which overlaps with the lead singers voice is also a melody. Are you getting the hang of this?

There is melody and then there is “the melody”

What is the melody of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”? Well, the melody of that song is what Michael sings. Oh, but what about that iconic bass line that starts the song. Well, yes, that is also a melody. But is not “the melody” of the song. The same is true for “Under Pressure” from Queen/David Bowie. And there are countless other examples that feature a very recognizable instrumental part, which is not the main melody of the song.

Typically, the melody of the song is what the singer sings. In popular music, that melody usually has words. Then again, “oh’s”, “ah’s” and any other combination of vowels or syllables can be used in melodies.

Melody in a song

The most popular vehicle for music today is the song. A song has three basic elements: melody, lyrics, and harmony. The element of lyrics does not really require an explanation. It is basically the words that the singer sings. Of course, these come attached to a melody. And underneath it all there’s the chords, also known as the harmony.

Making the melody memorable is very challenging and is the goal of songwriters all across the globe. How do you do that? I really wish I knew… I’d be rich by now! In any case, the melody is the most recognizable aspect of a song. Its importance cannot be overstated. The ‘catchiness’ of a melody either makes or breaks the song.

Wrapping it all up

There’s nothing like a melody that you can’t get out of your head. That kind of power has made melodies the centerpiece of music, especially in the last 100 years or so. How can a simple group of notes that one can recognize as an entity be so powerful? There have been entire books written about this! The truth is melody has probably existed since the first human beings inhabited this planet.

A melody, which is just a succession of notes and rests, can spark joy, sadness, longing, etc. Regardless of technology, changes in the world, and any other disruptive happenings, the power of melody is unlikely to fade. And I for one could not be happier about that.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head.

Ten Guitar Players You Should Know and Listen To

Ten Guitar Players You Should Know and Listen To

Hey– I’m going off the beaten path here a little this week.  It’s time to talk about my favorite guitar players…

A major part of becoming a good musician is listening to the greats. The importance of actively listening to music cannot be overstated. I’m talking about really focusing on what you are listening to. There is no substitute for this practice. In general, musicians should try to listen to as much music as possible. As guitar players, great guitarists are a great place to start this listening exercise. Although it is challenging to narrow this group to only ten, this list will be a great starting point. Here are the then guitar players you should know and listen to.

Jimi Hendrix

Nobody has had more influence on the electric guitar than Jimi Hendrix. He pushed the boundaries of the instrument with the extensive use of guitar pedals, distortion, wah wah, and stereophonic phasing. And he was arguably the only one doing this at the time and with that level of musicality. Though widely imitated, his vocabulary, blues feel and overall ferocity as a player remain unparalleled. He recorded masterpieces such as Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. Legions of guitar players have been heavily influenced by Hendrix, and rightly so.

Eddie Van Halen

Listening to Van Halen will have either one of two effects. You might be severely inspired to practice hard and become better. Or… you will slowly put down the guitar and be demoralized. Not since Hendrix had a player sounded so explosive and in-control at the same time. Eddie Van Halen’s use of double hand tapping, harmonics, and just sheer technical prowess and musicality are a thing to marvel at. Check out Van Halen. It features “Eruption”, considered one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.

Andres Segovia

 Segovia took the classical guitar and made it a legitimate concert instrument. A virtuoso, Andres Segovia also thought many students, some of whom became world-class guitarists themselves. Besides putting the classical guitar on par with other orchestra instruments, Segovia also contributed to the modern romantic repertoire. He did this mainly through transcriptions of baroque music pieces.

Slash

Paul Reed Smith once said: “In the 80s, you could not give away a Les Paul. Nobody wanted them. Then Slash burst into the scene and the rest is history”. Slash is considered one of the best guitar players ever. His riff and solos have become legendary for exhibiting a great deal of sensibility, melodic sense, and power. Many have tried to recreate his tone, particularly as it was recorded in Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction. His solos on “November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are perhaps among the most transcribed in the past 30 years.

B.B. King

He could make one note reach the bleachers in any arena, as no other player could. B.B. King’s feel and touch remain widely revered to this day. The undisputed King of the blues, B.B. King had a career that lasted over 60 years. His vibrato and bending are legendary and heavily imitated today. With almost 50 albums released, he was one of the most prolific guitar players ever. Check out the album B.B. King Live in Cook County Jail for some of the best blues playing you’ll ever hear.

Jimmy Page

A renowned studio musician before stardom, Jimmy Page founded arguably the greatest rock band in history: Led Zeppelin. A master at the instrument, Page also had an uncanny ability to come up with some of the greatest riffs in all of Rock N’ Roll. Before Led Zeppelin, he was part of The Yardbirds. Jimmy Page has been inducted into the Rock N’ Roll hall of fame twice (as a member of the two legendary bands). Check out Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin IV.

Alan Holdsworth

Perhaps the most technically proficient guitar player ever. Alan Holdsworth had an advanced understanding of music, theory, chords, and scales. His extremely polished legato playing style combined with his use of very advanced chords and scales to make him arguably the best guitar player in recent memory. Holdsworth’s playing was so incredible and advanced that he makes major shredders feel like they’re just learning the minor pentatonic scale. Check out Secrets and Live in Japan 1984.

Eric Clapton

One of the greatest blues players to emerge from England. Besides a prolific and extremely successful solo career, Eric Clapton was also part of legendary band The Yardbirds and the ultimate power trio: Cream. Aside from being a fantastic guitar player, Clapton is also renowned for his songwriting ability and output. He is also the only individual to be inducted three separate times at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

With a massive tone and incredible feel, Stevie Ray Vaughan is recognized as one of the greatest bluesmen ever. Heavily influenced by Hendrix, Vaughan was able to create his own unique style of playing that would in turn influence generations. He became a Blues staple in the 1980s and worked with several other great blues guitar players, including B.B. King. Check out his debut Texas Flood and the follow up Couldn’t Stand the Weather.

Pat Metheny

A prodigy, Pat Metheny is regarded as one of Jazz’ greatest guitar players. But his reach goes far beyond that. He has worked with legends such as Joni Mitchell and Antonio Carlos Jobim. A true master of the instrument, Metheny combines an extremely developed technique and knowledge of the instrument with soaring melodies and eloquence in the guitar. Check out Bright Size Life and One Quiet Night.

Wrapping it all up

It’s very challenging putting together a list of just 10 great guitar players. Do yourself a favor and go listen to these and many more. See what you like, what you gravitate towards. Explore, listen more, read about them and better yet… transcribe their work. Regardless of your level, you can do this. If you cannot learn a full solo yet, perhaps you can start with just a lick or the melody to one of their songs. Whatever your level may be, listen and listen hard.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head 

A Brief Guide To Popular Guitar Models

A Brief Guide To Popular Guitar Models

Welcome back,  This week is all about my favorite thing in the whole world – the guitar!

So many guitars, so little time… or was it so little money? Perhaps both? There are so many guitar models out there, it can be overwhelming to pick one or even a few. However, it’s also very exciting to go on a hunt for a new guitar that you connect with. Many guitarists (and musicians in general) “stalk” their next purchase for a while. You can do that by reading about a particular guitar you might be interested in, and better yet, trying it out.

Despite the massive amount of guitar models out there, there are a few that have risen to the top of the crop. This is due partly because of their greatness, usability and where they appeared in history. Here is a brief guide to some of the most popular and iconic models you may come across

Stratocaster

The undisputed most popular electric guitar model ever. It was designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares. The Stratocaster is the most copied guitar model ever. It is a solid body guitar (made from a solid piece of wood) and features three single-coil pickups. The “Strat” is extremely useful, to the point that is hard to associate it to a particular style or function. Rock, pop, funk, blues, heavy metal, and even jazz fusion greats have used the Stratocaster extensively.

It has a particular sound or twang and at the same time is extremely versatile. Chances are that the Stratocaster is the most recorded guitar ever. Besides Fender, there are dozens of reputable companies that have Stratocaster-type models in their line. Strats come in many varieties, with differences ranging from woods used on its construction, to electronics all the way to different kinds of bridges. These include giants like Ibanez and Paul Reed Smith, as well as smaller and boutique manufacturers like Suhr and Sadowski.

Greats like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, The Edge, and Wayne Krantz are prime examples of unbelievable “Strat” players.

Blues 103

Blues 103

Back for more of the blues,

Good deal – let’s get crackin’…

As I sit here typing this, part of me already wonders if the whole ‘class 103’ school style of title is right for articles about blues guitar playing. Are we giving this massively important subject its due respect?

Maybe we should be taking a more reverential approach – preaching the blues gospel. “Welcome to the church, sisters and brothers – please open your hymn books to page 48 – the Reverend Blues will begin the service in a few moments – can I get an AMEN!?!”

AMEN!

Excellent! Let’s get started then…

We’ve previously discussed the 12-bar blues in some detail, which covers the most important structure and chord pattern you’ll need for blues playing. But that’s just the harmony side of things – what about the melody? What about the tune? What about those blues solos and riffs?

Solos and Riffs? What’s the difference?

Length.

That’s it?

Basically yeah.

If you’re throwing out a collection of your best riffs/licks/chops (use whichever term you like) over a nice long section of music, then it’s a solo. This could last for hours.

If you’re just throwing in a couple of nice little musical tricks in here and there, perhaps just filling in those breaks in the lyrics to keep things interesting, then it’s a riff.

But first let’s find out what notes to build our solos and riffs out of. And for that we need to understand the Blues Scale…

Introducing the Blues Scale

Wikipedia tells us that “a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, and a scale ordered by decreasing pitch is a descending scale”.

Very academic – sounds like the sort of thing my old music teacher would bore me with. But unnecessarily complicated – let’s just call the blues scale “a collection of notes that, regardless of what order you play them in, will probably sound like the blues”. We’ll be asked to edit the next edition of the Webster’s Dictionary before long, just you wait and see…

The Blues Scale is built upon (and nearly identical to) the wonderfully simple Minor Pentatonic scale, shown here in E and G;

The guitar scale diagrams on the left show the ‘root’ notes (i.e. the key of the scale we’re playing) with an R, whilst the TAB on the right shows them in red.

If you have a play up and down this scale, it already sounds pretty bluesy – hard to believe you can achieve that with just 5 different notes. And we can enhance that with just one more note, adding in a sharpened 4th / flattened 5th that acts as a ‘blue note’;

Bingo – we now have a true Blues Scale. Again, have a play up and down to hear what we mean – that blue
note really makes a difference to the feel of the melody.

And don’t think that we’re restricting you to just playing the blues in 2 different keys here. Notice how the E scales feature lots of open strings, but the G scales don’t have any? This means that the diagrams for the G scales are completely moveable up and down the neck – simply change that root note on the low E string. This table shows you which fret to base the scale on for all different keys;

Putting it into practice

Learning the blues scale is one thing – turning it into a riff or solo is going to take some good old-fashioned practice. We certainly can’t cover it in just one article (it’d be hard enough in just one book), but these tips should steer you in the right direction;

  • Learn and practice the scale; The obvious starting point – get familiar with running your fingers both up AND down all the notes, both with the E and G versions. Then try the G version in some different places on the neck. The more you do this, the quicker your fingers will start remembering the positions for themselves – muscle memory in action.
  • Practice the scale some more, but differently; Once you instinctively know your way up and down through those notes, try starting and finishing at different points. Maybe pick a starting point – run up 4 notes, down 3, up another 4, down another 3, and so on…. this is you already starting to solo. Practicing along these lines can lead to some very inventive ideas!
  • Play along to recordings; This is what just about every rookie blues guitarist has done since recorded music became cheaply available – certainly over 100 years before the internet was invented. Use your ears to work out which root note to base your blues scale around and get jamming with your heroes.
  • Play along with internet resources; Have a look on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify etc. – they’re absolutely littered with blues backing tracks in just about every key imaginable. Some websites can even run a user-programmed blues backing track that’ll repeat as long as you need it to.
  • Play along with other musicians; Probably the best method out there, and especially if you’re working with other learner guitarists. Jamming around over some 12-bar blues patterns (see our ‘Blues 102’ article) is a superb way to explore what you can do with the blues scale, and you’ll be getting useful experience working as part of a group.
  • Play along with yourself; Got a loop station? Play a 12-bar blues into that sucker, loop it and off you go! Many buskers make a living off this technique…

Having said all that, it’d be mean to not give you a few ideas. All of the following examples are in G (based on a 3rd fret root) so you can move them up or down to whatever key you want…

A short solo? Or a long riff?

We’ll let you decide. Either way, here’s three of them.

First a basic 4-bar play around the minor pentatonic scale, keeping the rhythm nice and simple. Give it a gentle swing if you can – most blues have that rhythmic feel.

Now we’ll throw that blue note into the mix for another 4-bar idea. Notice how it’s only being used as a ‘passing note’ moving up to the 5th or down to the 4th degree of the scale – this is fairly typical of blues solo playing. We’ll also add some triplets which should add to the swing feel.

How about a few tricks now? String bends and quickly-executed hammer-ons/slides are common blues
stunts, and this final idea has them all!

Wrapping it up

And that concludes today’s lesson. Yes, it only just scratches the surface of this incredible topic, but (as mentioned earlier) there’s simply no way you can completely cover solo blues playing in one article – it’s really does come down to simply playing around and experimenting with the scale.

But a word of warning; you’ll find it very addictive. I had a guitar on my lap while writing most of this piece, jamming around with the musical examples, and managed to lose over an hour somehow…

So, with that, we’re done with our series on the blues.  A lot of info for sure, but it’s indispensable to learn for any self-respecting guitar-god-in-the-making.

Keep your eyes peeled for our next email, so until then…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head

Blues 102

Blues 102

Welcome to Blues 102,

Is the class sitting comfortably and paying attention? Then let’s begin…

We’ll start today’s lesson with a practical experiment that doesn’t involve a guitar. Instead you’ll require a computer or similar device (whatever you’re using to read this article on will probably do). And on that computer or similar device, you will need the following ready to go;

  • A web browser, opened on a search engine of your choice
  • A text-editing/note-making or similar kind of app, open and ready to type
  • The skills to copy and paste text from the web browser app to the text editing app

Your challenge

  • Find as many examples as you can of songs that are 12-bar blues
  • Copy the song titles and artist names from the web browser into the text app

It really is that simple. Oh, and you have just 2 minutes to complete this task.

Ready? GO!!!!

And your time’s up already…

…so go and total up your high-speed research. I’ve just tried this as well, and came up with the following;

Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan

Rock and Roll – Led Zeppelin

Tush – ZZ Top

Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

Going Up The Country – Canned Heat

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King

Crossroads – Eric Clapton

Ball and Biscuit – The White Stripes

I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown

Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets

Something Like Olivia – John Mayer

Give Me One Reason – Tracy Chapman

Red House – Jimi Hendrix

I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters

Crosscut Saw – Albert King

T-Bone Shuffle – T-Bone Walker

Rock and Roll Music – The Beatles

Move It On Over – George Thorogood

Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan

Ice Cream Man – John Lee Hooker

Sweet Home Chicago – Robert Johnson

Viola Lee Blues – The Grateful Dead

Still Haven’t found What I’m Lookin’ For – U2

Call Me The Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd

The Jack – AC/DC

Rave On – Buddy Holly

Blues With a Feeling – Little Walter

Dust My Broom – Elmore James

Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash

Stuck In The Middle With You – Stealers Wheel

Maybellene – Chuck Berry

Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison

Good Golly Miss Molly – Little Richard

Little Red Rooster – Rolling Stones

Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker

Mustang Sally – Buddy Guy

Going Down – Freddie King

Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones

Have You Ever Loved a Woman? – Derek & The Dominos

Mary Had a Little Lamb – Stevie Ray Vaughan

Strange Brew – Cream

Boogie Shoes – KC & The Sunshine Band

I Can’t Quit You, Baby – Led Zeppelin

Baby What You Want Me To Do – Jimmy Reed

Born Under A Bad Sign – Albert King

Iceman – Albert Collins

Rock Me Baby – Johnny Winter

All Your Love – John Mayall

Killing Floor – Howlin’ Wolf

Ten Long Years – B.B. King

Bye Bye Johnny – Chuck Berry

Let’s Work Together – Canned Heat

Teddy Bear – Elvis Presley

Rainy Day Women – Bob Dylan

Route 66 – Rolling Stones

Let’s ignore the fact that a few artists crop up more than once – that’s to be expected when doing fact-finding against the clock. Let’s not dwell too much on the mix of musical eras demonstrated here, spanning the best part of a full century – a good musical idea will always endure. And let’s not even get too surprised at some of the results – James Brown, U2 and The White Stripes are all superb musicians, so why wouldn’t they use this most common of forms to create superb music.

But let’s particularly not feel surprised that I’ve found 57 different examples of a 12-bar blues song in just 2 minutes. FYI, my personal best at this game is actually 74. And someone with better research skills (and a more reliable mouse than I’ve got attached to my computer) could easily beat that.

The 12-bar blues, whether you consider it a chord structure or even a musical form, is pretty much the most popular way of writing popular music there has ever been. Especially on guitar.

So, what is the 12-bar blues?

We covered this briefly in Blues 101, but to recap; it’s simply a pattern of chords played over 12 bars of music. And then repeated over and over, using different lyrics and solo sections to keep the interest alive.

The most basic form of the 12-bar uses just three chords;

  • The Tonic (the key that the song is based on – our Root chord or note). This is the first degree or step of our chosen key or scale, and so can also be referred to as ‘chord 1’ or I in roman numerals
  • The Subdominant – a major 4th above the key/chord/note that the song is written in, referred to as ‘chord 4’ or IV in roman numerals
  • The Dominant – a perfect 5th above the key/chord/note that the song is written in, referred to as ‘chord 5’ or V in roman numerals

If you’ve never really dipped your toe into the wonderfully weird world of music theory then don’t be scared by the language used here. All of this makes much more sense when you write all 12 bars out in order and actually add chord names.

We’ve put this example in E major (this IS a guitar article after all), so you can see that E is the Tonic (or chord I), A is the Subdominant (or chord IV) and B is the Dominant (or chord V)

Of course, you don’t have to just play your 12-bar blues in E – this table shows the chords you can use in a few other keys, working upwards from the root. Yes, we’re doing some theory homework for you here. We’re nice like that.

So, can we play some blues now?

Ohhhh yeah!  But first, let’s place that simple 12-bar in E actually onto some music with chord boxes:

Simple and effective. But is it too simple? Is it ‘bluesy’ enough?

One other major defining feature of blues music in general (discussed in Blues 101) is that it uses a lot of 7th chords to give that characteristic feel. And remember that the 12-bar blues tends to be used as a repeating pattern. Bearing all this in mind, let’s make a few changes;

  • We’ll change a few of the existing chords into 7ths (or ‘Dominant 7th’ chords to be precise)
  • We’ll change the chord in bar 2 from an E to an A (i.e. chord I to chord IV, or the Tonic to the Subdominant) – this happens quite a lot in blues music
  • We’ll make the whole thing repeat as many times as it needs to! This is easily done by bracketing the 12-bar section with start repeat (written as ||: ) and end repeat (written as :|| ) bar-lines. If you want to repeat then simply end the 12-bar section with the bar that has ‘Repeats’ written above it, and bounce straight back to the start. If you want to wrap it up then simply skip the ‘Repeats’ bar and go straight to the ‘Ending’ bar.

Straight away that’s sounding much more authentic. And why stick to one key? Here’s the same thing written in G, but notice how we’re using barre chords? Which means you could slide this whole structure up or down the guitar neck into any key you want…

And it’s break-time already

Yes, there goes the bell for recess. In a school this generally means students will do one of two things;

  • Head into the playground and cause general mayhem.
  • Head into the music room, pick up guitars and cause musical mayhem.

This is why music teachers look so worn out all of the time…

Time to tap out for now, [NAME].  We’ll finish things up next week, so stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

Guitar Head.

Blues 101

Blues 101

Got a good one for you for you here,  In fact, we’ll be taking a look at the blues over the next few weeks…so strap your self in and let’s go!

Here’s a frequently asked question; who ranks as the greatest guitarist the world has ever seen?

Well if this question is asked in the company of one or more guitarists, chances are it’ll turn into a pretty intense argument. Could even end up in a fight. Happily, there are many reputable publications that have tried to answer this question for us all.

Rolling Stone, Guitar World and TIME are three magazines which have reached their own conclusions about the top 100 players in the world, either through genuine expert opinion (and having people like Kirk Hammett and Brian May on your judging panel basically makes it a peer review) or democratic voting by their readers. So, we can safely assume their published results can’t be described as ‘fake news’. What a refreshing change in this day and age.

So – who is the best?

We’re sooooooooo not going to answer that! Partly because if our answer doesn’t match yours then this may be the last time you read our articles. And mostly because opinion is divided – even between the three prestigious journals mentioned above. But a few names do crop up more than once in their different top 10s…

Eddie Van Halen, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton all feature twice. Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix (James seems to be a popular name for guitarists) score a perfect three each.

What links these heroes of the guitar, these musical giants, these inspirations to us all? Well, to a lesser or greater extent, either directly or through their own main personal influences, they are ALL blues players.

Really? Hendrix was a blues guitarist?

If you want to be entirely accurate, Hendrix was a genius. That’s why there are statues of the man in Seattle and on the Isle of Wight. But yes, his style of playing owed more to the blues than anything else. It was louder, faster, more distorted, and involved a much greater fire risk (the early blues players tended not to burn their instruments on-stage at the end of a gig) but it was still blues playing at the core

B.B. King was a blues player. Clapton and Beck are still blues players. Chuck Berry invented rock n’ roll by listening to the blues. Keith Richards and Jimmy Page developed their sound from listening to people like Chuck Berry (along with the blues players that HE listened to). Van Halen – well actually he began his musical journey playing classical piano. But then he picked up the guitar and started playing along to Clapton.

So, the blues is a big deal?

Some would say it’s the biggest of deals – particularly in the history of popular music. Blues originally led directly to both jazz and rock n’ roll, and onward through rock, metal, funk, you name it. The incredible diversity of the sounds pumping through our world today genuinely owes more to the blues than any other basic concept in music.

And it’s a style of music perfectly suited to the guitar, which played just as important a part in blues development as the piano, banjo, trumpet and all the rest. Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and other early blues guitarists were among the pioneers that would shape our radio waves for decades to come.

So, it’s worth learning, right?

Absolutely. And if you need an excuse then try this; it’s actually pretty easy to nail the basics.

Like all styles of music, a comprehensive study of the blues could take as long as you want. There are hundreds of books and online resources covering everything from the history to the harmony – you can even work towards a postgraduate qualification at a number of colleges and universities around the world. Just imagine being able to legitimately call yourself a “Blues Professor”.

Or you could just decide to keep things nice and simple by concentrating on how to play a blues melody and how to strum through a blues chord sequence. And these basics might be all you ever need.

Melody: The Blues Scale

Mentioning ‘scales’ to many beginning musicians can result in facial expressions ranging from boredom to panic. But this really isn’t necessary with the blues scale – it’s just so simple.

First, we start with a standard minor pentatonic scale – in this case starting on E.
Very straightforward – and it already sounds pretty ‘bluesy’ if you walk up, down and all around it. The one magical ingredient that gives you the blues scale is a flattened 5th added to the mix…

Delicious! You’re still not moving beyond the third fret, you can manage the whole thing with only three fingers, but this one subtle addition has made all the difference to the way it feels. And look at it on the TAB – how much easier could a scale actually get? The blues could almost have been custom-designed for guitarists.

And here’s the truly beautiful thing; these are basically the only notes you need for an E blues solo. Spend some time riffing up and down all over it and you’ll see what we mean.

Chord sequence: The 12-bar Blues

“12-bar Blues? I’m sure I’ve heard that term used somewhere?” Yeah, we’re sure you have as well. It’s without a doubt the most common structure for popular music tunes EVER, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

One of the characteristics of blues music is that it tends to feature a repeating pattern of chords throughout. None of your ‘intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro’ pop-song construction nonsense here, but a simple sequence over and over, using lyrics and solos to keep the interest alive.

The 12-bar is definitely the most typical tune structure in blues, and (as its name suggests) just means you’re working through a pattern of chords over 12 bars of music. We’ve got two versions of that pattern right here, expressed differently. The example on the left shows a 12-bar structure displaying chords as degrees of the scale. The example on the right shows the exact same thing, but spelling those chords out for you.

Is this sounding a bit too much like music theory? Thought so.

So, let’s write it out properly, using chord slashes. We’ll keep it in E but throw in a few 7th chords as well.

Run through that over and over, and hey presto, you’ve played the blues. Told you it was simple, didn’t I!

The school bell is ringing

Ok, that’ll do for the moment. As mentioned earlier, this is the absolute basics. But for this truly wonderful kind of music, the basics might be all you ever need.

Blues 101 is concluded for today. Class dismissed – until next week, that is!

As always, stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar head

All About Rhythm

All About Rhythm

We meet once again,

Rhythm is such a beautiful thing. It is so simple, but it can also be so complex. It is present in basically every aspect of life; from the way we track time to how our hearts beat. Oh, you don’t believe me? If your heart constantly beats too fast, you probably have a medical condition. The same is true if your heart beats too slow. In case either of these is true, please go see a doctor, for real.

Yes! That is how powerful rhythm is. Ok, let’s narrow it down a bit and just stick to art. Rhythm is a major part of literature, theater, dance, and music. Its importance can never be overstated. It can either make or break anything regarding an art form.

So… when it comes to music, what is rhythm? It has been defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a movement marked by the regulated succession of a strong and weak element, or of opposite or different conditions”. A more direct definition is “the systematic arrangement of musical sounds, principally according to the duration and periodic stress”.

There are many aspects related to rhythm. Here we will focus on just a few ones to keep it simple. One of those aspects is the beat.

Follow the beat

As a guitar player, you will probably hear a lot about the beat. But what exactly is the beat? The beat is basically the speed at which a piece of music is played. It is that basic unit of time that is dictated by the conductor of an orchestra or band. It is also the speed at which you tap your foot while playing or even listening to a song. It can be fast, slow, or anything in between and beyond.

The importance of rhythm as a guitar player

How important is rhythm for guitar players? Extremely important. If you have a poor sense of rhythm, nothing else matters. You basically won’t be able to play with any kind of decency if you don’t have at least a decent grasp on rhythm.

And this is true for any musician, not just guitar players. Take any great musician from any point in history. They all had a great sense of rhythm, from Johann Sebastian Bach all the way to the Motown greats. Steve Vai? He has a fantastic sense of rhythm. Phil Collins? You bet! Jimi Hendrix? Great control of rhythm as well. There’s no way around this one.

How do you develop a good sense of rhythm?

The good news is that you can train to get better at rhythm. It is fundamental to listen to all kinds of music to develop a good sense of rhythm. And that includes what I call active listening. That means you focus 100 % on the music, as opposed to listening while you drive, wash dishes, jog, etc.

Another and perhaps the most obvious way to get better at rhythm (or anything else for that matter) is practice. You can practice playing riffs on time, solos, patterns, etc. If you use a metronome while you do that, then you are going to be improving at a great pace.

And the third way to get better at rhythm is to record yourself and then listen back. This tool is quite powerful and will reveal several things that you might not notice about your playing. It is a very powerful tool to get better as a musician in general.

And the most fun way of getting better at rhythm… play with other musicians, especially those that are better than you. Again, this is a great way to get better as a guitar player in general. If you can jam with another guitar player, or bass player or even a drummer, do it. There’s nothing like playing music with people to develop skills that you have already worked on in your practice room.

Reality check

You have to learn to walk before you can run, and before all that, you probably need to learn to crawl. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many guitar players try to play fast from the get-go. Folks… please avoid that temptation, as it will be wasted time.

Make sure you can execute something slowly first before you speed it up. It can be the simplest thing, like changing from a C chord to an Am chord. You need to make sure you can do that smoothly and with confidence slowly before you try it fast.

The best way to track progress is through the use of a metronome. Set it slow, and once you have whatever you’re working on down at a slow speed, then you can start increasing the speed of the metronome slowly. I repeat: slowly.

The depth of rhythm

Of all aspects of music, rhythm is the one humans relate to the most. It is a very tribal aspect that is central to many cultures of the world, not only in music but in art and life in general. There are professionals dedicated exclusively to the study of rhythm and its impact on society throughout history.

And there are countless stories of great musicians traveling to faraway lands to study rhythms from different parts of the world to enrich their own musical abilities and life. George Harrison spent a lot of time in India, Timbaland in Africa and the guys from Snarky Puppy in the middle east, doing just that.

Wrapping it all up

Rhythm is a central part of music and life. It is a lifelong pursuit to become good at rhythm and explore its many variations, intricacies, and aspects. It may be one of the most beautiful journeys a person might take.

As a guitar player, playing with a good time and a good sense of rhythm is one of the most important skills to master, arguably the most important. There are several ways to achieve this. With dedication, practice, perseverance, patience and some curiosity, you can also embark on this amazing journey.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

Guitar Head

2

All About Chords…

All About Chords…

This week we are going to take a look at another cornerstone of playing the guitar – chords.

As guitar players, we hear about chords constantly. Their importance cannot be overstated. As a matter of fact, since the guitar is mostly an accompanying instrument, guitar players play chords most of the time. That is true even for most of your favorite guitar heroes…

There are many kinds of chords: power chords, open chords, triads, extended harmony, poly-chords, etc. And chords are present in basically all styles of music. Rock, country, jazz, pop, classical, funk… you name it.

So… what is a chord, you might ask?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines chords as “three or more musical tones played simultaneously”. Although I like that definition quite a bit, I would change it to “two or more musical tones played simultaneously”. Oh, just two notes played together are a chord? Well… this might be a hot topic among music theorists and musicologists, but yes. Remember the power chord? Well, it usually involves only two notes.

Chords are connected

Many beginning guitarists assume that they have to learn hundreds of completely different chords. What they don’t realize is that chords are related. You can expand them, compress them, change a few things, and always build on it. Let’s take for instance a C chord and a Cmaj7 chord. Even though they are different chords, they share the same three notes (C, E, G), with Cmaj7 having an extra note (B).

So, you can build all kinds of different C chords on top of the structure of that particular chord, or varying a few things on that chord. And yes, this all creates a plethora of “new” chords. It is more practical to see how these relate, rather than view them all as completely unrelated chords.

Oh, but what about chords with different roots and names? Well, let’s take Am for instance. It has two notes in common with the C chord (C and E). That means that 66.6 % of the C chord is identical to an Am chord and vice versa. Only one note changes. And for all of you theory enthusiasts out there, Am minor is the relative minor chord of C. And C major is the relative major chord of Am. And each major chord has a minor relative and vice versa. There are many other ways in which chords connect and relate to each other.

 You can build on chords

Let’s take a Cmaj7 chord. Add a D an octave above, now you’ve got a Cmaj7(9). Now let’s add an A above that. Now you’ve got a Cmaj7(13). Now, let’s take the B (which is the seventh) and drop it by a half step to Bb. Now we’ve got a C13. Those are all different chords, but they are built on structures that differ very little.

The same applies to all other chord qualities (minor, dominant, diminished, augmented, etc.). You can build on chords and you can also take extended chords and make them simpler. In other words, you can take an extended C13 chord, remove two notes and you’re back at C7. Don’t worry if this sounds a bit advanced. The point to take away is that you can build on chords and simplify them as well.

Chords are the building blocks of harmony and progressions

Harmony is one of the most important parts of music. It is a defining factor on the effect of music. You can have the same melody and change the chords to have a very different emotional impact.

Another important aspect of music is progressions. These are composed of chords. As a guitar player, it is important to master certain progressions. For instance, the blues. The blues is a set chord progression that typically has twelve bars. And since the blues is what Rock and Jazz are based on, it is fundamental to master it.

You can mix and match chords

Remember the part about chords being connected? Well, the concept of chord substitution is a very powerful and popular tool in music. It literally is what the name suggests. You take a particular chord in a progression and substitute with another one. Naturally, there are rules and ways to go about substituting chords.

There is also poly-chords. That is definitely for more advanced musicians and we won’t get into it now. But for now, just know that you can take a few notes from one chord and combine it with a few notes from another chord to create a poly-chord. These are a very powerful tool. Obviously, it also involves a few rules or guidelines…but that’s for another time.

You will play mostly chords

Despite the hoopla with solos and other guitar-related fireworks, guitar players mostly play chords. Even if you are the lead guitar player, most of the time you will accompany the melody of the song. So yes, knowing as much as you can about chords and how harmony works will be a major factor in becoming a good guitar player.

This is partly because the guitar is traditionally an accompanying instrument, as opposed to a saxophone or trumpet which can only play single lines. Remember… the guitar is the most popular instrument on earth. One of the main reasons is because you can play songs on guitars. And that almost always means playing chords.

Wrapping it all up

Don’t let all of this theory stuff scare you.  Really.  The more you progress with your playing the more it will all make sense.  One day you’ll wake up, slap your forehead, and say “NOW I understand!!”

Chords are a major part of becoming a guitar player. They form the building blocks of harmony and progressions. And make no mistake about it: guitar players play mostly chords. And just like with any other aspect of playing an instrument, the more you practice, the better you will be at playing them.

One of the coolest things about chords is that they are connected. These are not unrelated entities that exist in a vacuum. Chords, along with progressions, have structures that connect them in more ways than a beginner guitar player may realize. And that my friends, is a thing of beauty.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned until next week, and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head

String Change Basics: Part 2

String Change Basics: Part 2

I’m back again,

Welcome back to our straightforward, no-nonsense (ok, nearly no-nonsense), non-illustrated guide about how to perform guitar string changes.

Hopefully, Part 1 has given you the low-down on why and when re-stringing your guitar is a good idea. So, let’s get going with the practical stuff…

Just to warn you, I’m gonna be a little long-winded this week.  This could easily be split into a Part 3 but then you’d be left hanging with a half-strung up guitar and nowhere to go.  That just wouldn’t be very nice, right?  You’ll need to get this all done in one shot.

What equipment will I need to change strings?

The essentials:

  • New strings
  • Pliers (and a wire cutter if your pliers don’t have this built-in)
  • Guitar tuner

The very useful

  • String winder (aka ‘peg winder’)

We’d also recommend somewhere comfortable to work that won’t damage the guitar or anything else. Lay it on a table or bench with a towel under the entire instrument and a cushion or pillow beneath the neck.

All at once? Or one-at-a-time?

Opinions differ about whether you should remove all your guitar strings in one go before re-stringing;

  • Advantages: with no strings on the guitar, you can completely clean the fingerboard using a guitar cleaning oil or similar product. This will also help keep new strings cleaner for longer.
  • Disadvantages: your guitar is used to supporting the weight of a full string set – a sudden and complete loss of tension may cause some movement in the neck or action.

This is really your decision to make. One common suggestion is to usually complete changes one string at a time, and occasionally do the full removal and clean the neck and other parts that are hard to get at when all of the strings are on.

Removing the old strings

This is the easy part…

  1. Loosen the old string. It doesn’t have to be floppy and hanging off, just loose enough so there’s no discernible note being produced when played. You could snip strings in half with the pliers at this point, but it’s not 100% necessary.
  2. Remove string from the head end of the guitar. This will involve un-wrapping it from the tuning peg. At this stage of looseness, it should easily unravel, although there’s like to be a little kink right at the end that will need persuading. Be careful with the string end – remember it’s basically a length of wire, and lengths of wire usually terminate in a sharp point.
  3. Remove string from bridge end of the guitar. The method here will depend on the type of guitar you have:

Electric

Strings are usually secured to the bridge end of electric guitars in two different ways. ‘Bridge mounted’ instruments (think Gibson Les Paul) have strings threaded through from the back of the bridge. ‘String-through’ instruments (think Fender Stratocaster) have the strings threaded through from the back of the guitar’s body where they poke out from the front through the bridge. In either case, the old string will simply thread its way back out the way it came in.

Steel-string acoustic

These are usually pushed through holes in the bridge, going inside the guitar body, and then secured with little pegs called ‘bridge pins’. The pins are easily removed, ideally using pliers, after which you simply pull the string out.

Other common methods for bridge pin removal include;

  • String winders. These are usually fitted with a notch designed for levering out bridge pins.
  • A spoon. Use this as a lever, but make sure you protect the guitar body with something like a towel (or a beer mat if you’re doing this at a gig).
  • Your teeth. Clench the pin between your jaws and pull it out. This is a very common method for folk and blues players. (have you seen the state of those guys teeth? Don’t try it).

I’m kidding.  Really.  You DO know I’m kidding, right?

Make sure you put the pins somewhere safe after removal – any you lose will prevent you from re-stringing the guitar completely!

Nylon-string Classical/Flamenco guitar

Pretty self-explanatory – the string is tied to the bridge with a looped knot threaded through itself. This should be easy to untie.

Be careful when disposing of the old strings – a good idea is to coil them up so they don’t poke out through garbage bags. And remember, metal can usually be recycled.

Identify the correct string before you begin attaching them

Obvious you may think. But REALLY annoying if you get halfway through and then realize that’s an A string that you’re winding onto the peg meant for the G…

Fortunately, string manufacturers help you out here, and (usually) label the packets pretty carefully. If they’re not in individual wallets with the string name, number and gauge clearly marked, they’ll most likely have color-coded ball-ends which you can identify using instructions on the packet. Oh, and don’t throw either those empty wallets or packet away immediately – they’re a good way of storing the old strings before you bin them.

Attaching the new strings

Basically, read the previous string removal steps in reverse order. First, you need to attach your new string to the bridge…

  • Electric: whether it’s string-through or bridge-mounted, simply thread the new string back through where the old one came from, either from the back of the guitar body or the rear end of the bridge. And make sure you poke it through the correct hole!
  • Steel-string acoustic: Poke the ball-end of the string through the correct hole on the bridge – perhaps making a slight kink (no more than 45°) about an inch from the end before you do – this makes the ball-end less likely to give you problems. Then re-insert the pin, making sure the groove is facing towards the guitar neck. Hold the pin down whilst you pull on the string until you feel it catch, then push the pin tightly into position. A gentle tug on the string will ensure it’s locked into place, although don’t be surprised if the peg pops out. If this happens, simply repeat the process until you’re satisfied that peg ain’t going nowhere! And don’t worry – bridge pin replacement can take practice.
  • Nylon-string Classical/Flamenco guitar: Having untied the old string, you’ll need to tie on the new one. Thread about 15cm of new string through the correct bridge hole, front to back. Then loop it under the main section of string, bring it back to knot under the resulting loop a few times, and finally pull the main string section to gently but firmly tighten the knot.

Surplus string

Most guitar strings are WAY longer than you’ll need them to be, which can be annoying whilst attaching them to the tuning pegs. To make life easier, this is the point where you can choose to trim them down initially. Hold the string against the guitar all the way up to the relevant tuning peg and measure around a hand’s width beyond – that’s where you can make a cut with the pliers and take off the top end section. Or not. We know this procedure can be a nerve-racking experience for the first few times!

Winding on new strings

This part is pretty much the same for all guitar types.

Start by threading the string through the hole in the tuning peg post, from inside to outside. If you’ve already trimmed the string down then you’re looking for just an inch or two to poke through the hole. If you haven’t then pull enough of the string through so that the main part runs over the neck properly – not too tight, but roughly in place. Either way, make sure the string is running over the correct part of the bridge saddle and the correct groove in the headstock nut.

Professional guitar technicians have the experience, skill, and confidence to start winding straight away at this point. But if you’re concerned about the string trying to slip back through the hole in the post as you begin to tighten things up (and this does happen) then two common tricks to avoid this are;

  • Make a kink in the string where it comes back out of the hole in the post – basically just bend the protruding part into a V-shape, holding it roughly in place
  • Pass the string round the back of the post so that it goes under itself, then fold the end back over the top. Think of this as an ‘extreme’ kink – less pretty but slightly more secure.

Now the actual winding begins, and this is where the convenience of a string winder becomes clear. You’re going to start turning the tuners themselves to wind the string around the tuning peg post, usually in an anti-clockwise direction (if you’re looking directly at the tuner from above) or whichever way you usually twist the thing to tune upwards, and it’s gonna take a LOT of turns. Try to ensure that the string wraps itself around the peg below the hole – ideally not covering up the preceding wraps as it goes, although this isn’t a major problem if it happens. And remember we’re not tuning to correct pitch at this point, just simply getting the string attached firmly and as neatly as possible.

Repeat this process with the rest of the strings. Ideally, you’d have 2-3 wraps around the posts for the low strings (E A and D) and around 6 for the high strings (G B and high E), but this isn’t an exact science.

Stretching and tuning

Nearly ready to play! But brand-new strings contain a lot of slack and have a habit of stretching quite a bit, which will put them back out of tune pretty quickly. Fortunately, this is something we can try to take the edge off by ‘pre-stretching’

  • Use the tuner and get the string to its normal pitch.
  • Pull-on the string firmly but gently. Now check the tuning again.
  • Repeat the above process as many times you feel necessary. Basically tune, stretch, tune, stretch, tune…

After about three times through this sequence, you’ll notice the string starting to finally behave.

Final Trim

If you didn’t complete the trimming part earlier on then you’re now holding a freshly re-strung, perfectly tuned guitar that looks like it needs a visit to a barber’s shop. Those bits of string hanging off the headstock don’t look cool in a ‘guitar hero’ kinda way, they look stupid. And dangerously sharp. Do yourself (and anyone standing nearby as you play) a favor – grab the pliers and trim those things right back.

Finished!

And you’re all done. For a beginner this can feel like a chore – patience is definitely required. But practice makes perfect (and we guarantee you’ll get plenty of that), so what may have just taken you half an hour will soon be taking less than six minutes.

This really is the simplest way to improve everything about the way a guitar sounds, so go and enjoy that beautiful fresh string smell. Just wash your hands first, otherwise, you’ll be repeating this process way too soon…

Wrapping It All Up

So…that’s it!  Yeah, it was a lot of reading, but it changing your strings really is as simple as it sounds. I’m gonna be moving on to a different topic next week, so until then – stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head