Some guitar history (electrified and amplified).

There are some misconceptions about the origins of the electric guitar. Many people credit Les Paul with the invention – but that’s not true. He just helped make it perfect. No, the story is stranger than that. It’s so strange that we’re going to ignore the various attempts and stick with the first viable electric guitar.

Way back before any of us was hatched, a fella by the name of George Beauchamp used to play in a Hawaiian band. Never mind that he wasn’t actually from Hawaii, that’s not important. What matters is that he was a steel guitar player.

Now, a steel guitar (not to be confused with a pedal steel guitar) is played by putting the guitar, top up, across your lap as though you’re Jeff Healey. Then, you use a piece of steel to slide and fret your guitar. This, of course, is absolutely retarded.

I’m going to assume you know how a guitar works. By putting the guitar perpendicular across their lap and pointing the sound hole up, that means the sound goes into the ceiling and not into the audience. Like I said, it’s fucking retarded.

I will take a brief moment to point out that Country and Western music has steel guitar in it ’cause these same bands would play both genres and they’d play them with the same musical instruments. So, you ended up with steel guitar in country music and, eventually, pedal steel in country music. Most musicians don’t make much money. You play with what you’ve got – and they had a steel guitar. So, goat roping music has steel guitar in it.

Where was I? Oh, yes…

George Beauchamp didn’t like this very much and realized it was retarded. He was unable to get the volume out of the guitar that he needed to be heard along with the other instruments. (Important side note: It’d be a bit longer before the guitar moved to the front of the band.)

So, using magnets and coils, Beauchamp set about making himself an electrified guitar. Well, it pretty much sucked – but he was pretty pleased with himself. I’d like to think the first thing he played was a bitchin’ solo, but that’s unlikely because the bitchin’ solo hadn’t yet been invented. This was still the 1920s, after all.

Even though it sucked, George thought it was the best thing ever. He meandered all over California with his band and guitar. This would have been awesome, but did I mention it kind of sucked? Well, it did.

Eventually, and I’m not actually sure how, he met a fella by the name of Adolph Rickenbacker at Dopyera Brothers in Los Angeles, CA. It turns out, Adolf was a bit of an electrical engineer and was really interested in new technology. Working together, they fashioned themselves some pickups and probably worked on playing bitchin’ solos together.

It’s sort of important to note that they weren’t actually the first to amplify a guitar. No, the first amplified guitars were probably from the jazz guitarists and they weren’t actually commercially available.

It was about this time when they started making guitars out of metal. George and Adolf said, “Sweet.” Then, they put their pickups into these metal guitars. These guitars were shaped like long-handled frying pans and the “Frying Pan” electric guitar, and amplification, were born.

That was in 1931.

Strangely, there’s no story of misdeeds and intrigue. The Rickenbacker guitars are known as such ’cause Beauchamp is fucking hard for people to pronounce.

And those were the first commercially viable electric guitars. They weren’t invented to make bitchin’ solos. Nobody would leap around with ’em for years to come. They woudn’t move to the front of the band until the 1950s. They were invented so that they could play Hawaiian music at volumes loud enough to be heard with the rest of the band.

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The 5th Greatest Guitarist to Walk The Earth?

#5 Eddie Van Halen

Eddie might just be the least controversial person to put in this position. There are many who might have wanted him higher on the list but I doubt there will be many who wanted to see him placed lower on my list.

By now, you should know that this list was prompted by Rolling Stone Magazine (and many others) giving Jimi Hendrix accolades I don’t really think he deserved. To touch on that again, Jimi was a fine artist and a good guitarist. He was an excellent musician – but, on a technical scale, he pales to the greats which I’ve been listing.

We all know Rolling Stone is not to be trusted with judging musical talent, but they were closer to home with this one. They placed him in 8th position in their list of top 100 guitarists. Guitar World readers put him in first place – but they don’t appear to even be able to get their slideshow working properly, so they’re definitely not to be trusted with counting higher than four. (Maybe they should be called Drum World?)

You can click this link and see what Wikipedia has to say about him, but they’re just not a very good source. A quick search for “godlike guitar powers” and “holy fuck” get no results. I submit, dear reader, that this is surely a sign of a conspiracy. It’s also probably why my account is banned from editing Wikipedia. I am guessing the two are related.

Eddie was born in Netherlands and his real last name is some stupid combination of letters that I can’t remember, spell, or pronounce. I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced by filling your mouth with rocks and trying to recite Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Fortunately, he changed it to something awesome. It’s so awesome that it has become an entity of its own. If you say Van Halen, only a fool doesn’t know exactly what you mean. You can even turn it into a verb, “You Van Halen’ed the fuck out of that solo.”

Someone, I won’t mention any names – but it rhymes with Bees Sugar Post, once told me that Van Halen wasn’t innovative and that’s probably technically true. He took many other components and put them together as his own sound. So, I’d have to say that he innovated in that he made a very, very distinct sound. It’s not that all Van Halen songs sound the same, it’s that many of them tend to be unmistakable.

Let’s have a listen, shall we?

The thing is, that’s not impressive. It’s not. I can play that with my eyes closed. In fact, I have. No, that’s actually not why Eddie is on the list.

This is why he’s on the list – it’s the same(ish) song:

I can’t play that – and neither can you.

Also, my hair isn’t that awesome. It’s not…

There exists something so fantastic that it’s not a documentary, it’s a rockumentary. Save the Van Hagar jokes! It’s well worth watching!

Seriously, skip the Van Hagar joke.

Unless you think the sound wasn’t distinct (and it’s pretty difficult to replicate) then I invite you to listen to the quintessential rock song.

Some folks will say that Eruption or Panama are the true masterpieces. They’re also the same sort of people who’d put Jimi at the top of the list. In other words, they’re wrong. This is the masterpiece. Go ahead and replicate it, I’ll wait…

Finally, I want to leave you with one last track for the road and to get you through until I post the next entry on the list. This song is just fun to play. It’s difficulty level is not too high, compared to some other artists, but it’s absolutely fun to play – almost as much fun as Jump.

Until next time…

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Triads (just the basics)

By now, you’ve been playing for a while and you keep hearing this term, “Triads.” It sounds awfully fancy but let’s think about it for a moment.

I’m going to keep this pretty basic.

Remember that tricycle you rode as a child? How about a triangle? Well, “tri” means three and that’s exactly what triads means. It means chords made up of three notes. So, a Cmaj would be C, E, and G. A Cmin would be C, Eb, and G.

Fuck that noise.

A good rule of thumb is that a major triad is shaped like Emin, A, or D chord. You can barre or grand barre them – and they’re almost certainly a major triad.

What a minor triad? That’s easy. The Emin, Amin, or Dmin shapes would almost certainly be a minor triad. You can smash ’em around all across the fretboard and you’re probably playing a minor triad.

I say “probably” because someone’s likely to come along and point out that there’s a spot where that’s not technically true – but I don’t know of such a spot and I’m too lazy to stop and run through checking.

So, where do they fit?

Major triads go with the major scale and major pentatonic scales.

Minor triads fit with the natural minor scale (sometimes called the Aeolian scale), Dorian scale, Phrygian scale, and minor pentatonic scale.

Or, as I like to say, bang at it and if it doesn’t sound right then try the other one! They’re pretty handy little critters to know and understand. People like to make it more complicated than it really is – it’s not. You can make it complicated, but there’s no reason to.

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Our series of brilliant guitarists continues…

There was no entry last week because I was busy and because someone else wrote a post that I felt deserved some attention and I didn’t wish to detract from their brilliant entry. I’m also becoming rather busy. Still, there’s lots of artists to write about and I can manage to fit this in most every week.

Without further ado, our forth entry:

Continue reading “Our series of brilliant guitarists continues…”

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Why tune up? (Stoned ramblings.)

These are stoned ramblings. You have been warned.

A recent PM conversation with someone who’s learning to play the guitar led to them asking me why I say always tune up. I’m not alone in saying this – it’s pretty basic as to the what you should do. Everyone tells you to tune up, right? The question is, why do people tell you to tune up.?

T|he answer is not really so simple and many people will give you the most outlandish answers I’ve ever heard. I’m going to make it way more complicated than it needs to be – but I’ll try to explain it as I go along.

Strings, if you’ve ever pulled them out of the new case or removed them from your stringed instruments, have memory. That means that they tend to retain the shape they have been fixed in. It’s a process due to the molecular reshaping when force is exerted on them – but that’s not important. Basically, when you pull a string out of a brand new package, it has the tendency to remain in its previous shape.

A more salient example of this is when you unravel a string to remove it from the tuning peg – it retains that shape pretty well.

If you add more energy to your strings, they will break. If you don’t believe me, (you need new strings anyhow) take your skinniest string and rest a lit cigarette on it. Go on, I’ll wait… (Don’t do that unless you’re going to change the strings anyways.)

Then, there’s friction in the system – and some of it is manifest as stiction. This force is overcome when you add more energy to the system (or when energy already in the system moves to a disordered state). In human-speak, this means it has the tendency to loosen at a more rapid rate.

How much of this is true and how much of this is so insignificant may actually be bordering on something between reality and legend. Is it truly a factor? Absolutely. Simple physics tells us that it’s a factor. But, in the days when you’re able to set your precise tone with an electronic instrument, how much does this matter? If you tune up, you have the greatest potential energy in the system.

I’ve done some testing and, frankly, it isn’t a significant factor all the time. Sometimes, it’s not significant over the period of time that I am concerned with. It really depends on the guitar. I’ve made lots of observations but I haven’t bothered to keep the data. I’ve not done rigorous study, in other words.

Either way, I’m not kidding. If you want to see it. just play with your tuner on and watch to see if the pitch decreases with greater speed than it does if you tuned down to that pitch. The answer depends on so many factors – and most of us actually don’t even tune that precisely. Many of us just tune the guitar to itself. Some guitars can be downright terrible and you’ll have to find a balance for them – including wanting to find a balance for intonation. In this area, some guitars are better than other guitars.

On top of that, if you’ve got relatively new strings and aren’t beating on them for years, the difference isn’t that much. It still exists – it’s just not as great as some people make it out to be. Frankly, tune to whoever gave you an A and call it good. The audience isn’t going to notice. You’re generally not playing for a refined ear or the studio. If you’re recording then practice the best effort. If you’re playing for an audience that’s seated, practice your best effort. If you’re playing in a dive bar and you want to hurry up so that you can get a drink, then it doesn’t really matter. You can just be in tune with the rest of the band and call it good.

If it doesn’t always matter, why do I tell people this? Well, I also tell people to keep their instrument in good shape. I tell them to maintain it. I tell them to keep it clean. I tell them to do drills every day, stretch every day, and run scales every day, and play every day, and all sorts of other things. Most good guitars go out of tune at about the same rate, even if you tune them down to pitch. There’s usually not a whole lot of difference between them.

How much of that I actually do myself? Not so much. I wipe stuff down and hang it back up. I check intonation real quick and then see how quickly something goes out of tune. I throw new strings on if I’m going to record. If I’m going to perform, I’ll restring everything. For the record, I hate having to rush to string a guitar. A pick winder is your friend, but that’s something we’ll talk about another day.

Why did I write this? Well… It’s always been some sort of guitar legend. I know even piano tuners do it and have for years and years. I assume it goes back before that, but I don’t have any historic record for that can’t provide a citation. So, I write this because I don’t really see it that well covered elsewhere. Otherwise, I’d just link you to that.

It’s always been a legend and some people don’t pay it much attention. I can’t say that I blame them. Some people give it more credence than others, and sometimes they’re right – depending on the guitar they’re playing.

I guess the point is that the legend has some basis in reality. You can see how much it impacts you by just watching the pitch with your tuner. Hammer on it for five minutes and see if it’s out of tune. Check it at the 12th fret – is it in tune there?  Check in another five minutes. Keep doing that.

If it gets lower (the space between wave peaks is further apart and it gets flat sounding) with greater rapidity then it’s an issue. Sometimes, it doesn’t have that much of an impact It’s going to vary based on so many things that it’s really up to you and the guitar – but I’m always going to suggest you do it, just like I always suggest cleaning your guitar before putting it away.

It may even vary depending on what type of music you’re playing. In other words, the more energy you put into the system the faster you’ll overcome the forces that hold the string in place. That’s energy and it’s gotta go somewhere.  The more energy you put into it (the harder you play) the faster you’ll go out of tune. It will vary a lot depending on the instrument and the system used to hold the strings in place, with some systems being more capable than others.

What do I mean by more capable? Let’s get geeky about it.

It’s all about energy… Really!

If you want to see this, heat a cup of coffee and put it on your desk. Watch it. Let me know when it, by itself, gets warmer instead of colder. Without adding energy to the system – it trends towards disorder. This is the same thing that’s happening in your guitar.

Some of that energy is transferred in the form of sound. Some of it is even heat. If you check the temperature of various bits of the guitar with fairly accurate gear, you’ll see some parts of it are warmer and, indeed, energy is being transferred out of it as heat. That energy transferred as heat could be wasted energy or it could be energy not absorbed by the system holding the strings in place. 

What that means is be nice to your guitar. It may not make you a living, but it does give you something in return for the amount of energy you put into it. It’s just simple physics!

It’s able to be expressed mathematically. Really – I’m not kidding.

I realize that I’m pretty stoned and I might be speaking gibberish – but there’s a method to my madness – and a madness to my method.

If you want to figure this out mathematically, and express the figures for your specific instrument, you can get some precise measurement equipment, assume a few spherical cows, and get a fairly accurate mathematical answer to this.

Here, I’m not kidding. If you want to do the math, follow this link. That won’t even give you an absolutely exact figure, and you’re going to have to do a bunch of research, testing, and a whole lot of very exact data collection. As far as I know, nobody has ever done this work – there’s been no really good academic study into precisely this and that’s an area of interest that I have.

If such a study is done, I predict that it is going to vary significantly. Of this I’m really confident. Someone should study this and put it up for peer review. I’d absolutely read that.

So, we’ll have to content ourselves without exact numbers until someone does that study. Fucked if I know the exact amount and no, I’m not going to go find out. But!!!

What else is going on? What else is happening? Here comes the fun part…

First, I need to tell you that when you’re playing, you’re smashing atoms all around. Yeah, you’re shooting particles off in every direction. You’re emitting heat, electrons, and all sorts of fun stuff. The energy isn’t just being observed as sound. Your eyes don’t see it, but it’s there – you can observe it. You’re putting energy your into the guitar. (An electric guitar amplifier amplifies this signal – it increases the amount of energy in the system – which comes from the battery or wall, but that’s also not important.)

Second, that means when you’re playing amplified music – you’re telling electrons what to do. Some of this is expressed as sound, some of it is heat, but you’re smashing bits of matter together and causing it to make electrons exchange at a controlled rate of speed. You see it as string vibration and hear it as sound. If you touch the amps, you feel it as heat.

If you want to realize how awesome this truly is, per cubic centimeter, you emit more energy than our star (Sol) does. When you’re playing, you’re emitting even more energy than that. Then, it’s being amplified, emitted as waves that shape the air, vibrating a fine membrane of tissue in the ear, causing electrons to be exchanged that result in tiny chemical responses, and we humans interpret that as sound.

Frankly, that’s fucking awesome!

By the way… Heat’s often considered waste heat or energy needed to not be absorbed in order to maintain structural integrity. Some heat is good, some heat is bad. If your guitar is on fire, it’s probably bad. (Take a lesson, Jimi…)

And some of that energy is transferred away from the system in your tuning pegs and in the strings themselves. Which is why you always tune up. It puts you at the most optimal state of energy – usually.

By the way, if you don’t know what spherical cows are, I highly encourage looking that up – but only if you really want to try to figure out the math for it all. If you don’t believe you’re emitting energy outside the spectrum you can usually observe, look at yourself in the mirror with a thermal camera.

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Today’s The Third Entry On Our List of The Greatest Guitarists.

By now, you know the drill. I’m not a huge fan of the accolades that are showered on Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was a fine artist and a good guitarist – but I don’t believe he’s the greatest.

I dare say that I’m qualified to opine on this matter. Not only that, I intend to prove it. I’ve already shared two guitarists that I think are far more deserving of the title and praise.

Having said that, it’s time to admit that this is rapidly becoming a list of great guitarists. The jumping off point was guitarists better than Hendrix, but the truth is that some guitarists are just so good, and so unique, that it’s hard to quantify them and say one is better than the other.

So, this is more-or-less just a list of great guitarists, though I try to keep some sort of air of priorities and ranking. I try to put them in some sort of order, but we could just as easily argue for different placement locations on this list.

Like always, if you have any comments or complaints, please feel free to voice them. If you want to see your favorite artist featured, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if they’re good enough for inclusion the list. If you want to argue, you should be ready to prove that you’re skilled enough in the art to qualify your opinion. This isn’t a question of who you prefer, it’s about technical mastering of their instruments.

So, without further ado, I present to you the third entry in our list of guitarists who are better than Jimi Hendrix:

Continue reading “Today’s The Third Entry On Our List of The Greatest Guitarists.”

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Uploaded tab/music.

In the past, I’ve uploaded tab to a different site and the site didn’t allow one to browse the directory. So, with some PHP hacking, we now have an automated directory listing where you can go download the tab for anything I’ve uploaded.

You can get there by clicking this link (opens in a new tab).

On that subject, I have a pretty good collection of tab, books, etc… Feel free to drop me a line or a comment, if you’d like something specific. I may just have a copy.

Now, shut up and play me a song!

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Another guitarist better than Hendrix…

If you have short-term memory problems, or haven’t visited the site before, you’ll know that I am not a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix having received as many accolades as he has. He’s been named Best Guitarist of All Time and Guitarist of the Century.

Don’t get me wrong, Hendrix was a good guitarist. He took things from other artists, put them together in a package all his own, and did things with the guitar (in totality) that other guitarists simply weren’t doing at the time.

But, listen to his live stuff. He couldn’t stay in key, couldn’t play the same thing twice, knew maybe a dozen basic progressions and scales, and was remarkably sloppy.

I won’t deny that he was influential. I can even say that he’s influenced me. I can also say, with some absolute certainty, that I can play everything Hendrix played and I can play it better than he did. It’s not hard. If you want something difficult, try Leyenda (Asturias).

So, without further ado, let’s examine the 2nd guitarist who was far more deserving of being called Greatest.
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What’s the deal with arpeggios?

Alright, kids. It’s time for another lesson with TheBuddha. We’re going to talk about arpeggios.

What are arpeggios and why should you care?

Well, if you’ve been playing guitar for any length of time, you’ve already come across them. Chances are, you already play them – and may not even know what they are. They are basically component parts of a chord.

Play a chord. Now, play the notes that make up that chord, one by one. That’s a basic arpeggio. No, a scale isn’t an arpeggio. A scale is a sequence of notes in a certain key. An arpeggio is a sequence of notes within a chord. Another name for the arpeggio is “broken chord.”

The word arpeggio comes from Italian. It means to play a harp. Yup, imagine a harpist playing one string at a time in succession, and you’ve got an arpeggio. The same theory applies. If it doesn’t sound right, you’re doing it wrong and you should try again. (We’re not big on formalities at this here establishment!)

Seriously, make a D chord and play the 3 2 1 strings, one at a time. There, you just played an arpeggio.

So, why should you know this?

They sound good – really. You’ll hear them in all sorts of music and you’ve been playing them for years without even knowing. I suppose they probably come from classical but they are found in rock, bluegrass, jazz, and probably a bunch of other genres.

They are much handier than just the subset of chords you might know. Learn a few basic arpeggio shapes and you’re good to go – you can play them in any key. I am not going to get into all the shapes and the progressions, ‘cause there are all sorts of resources for you to use just from searching. My goal is just to get you started.

To get started the rest of the way, this site has a really good write-up about arpeggios:

Click to read very good introduction to arpeggios.

(I recommend learning the major and minor triad first. They’re the most approachable.)

If you’re in doubt, start with the root note and go from there. If you’re playing in G, start with a G. Try a few different ways to pick and try a few different styles – do a hammer on and a string bend. Trust me, just keep poking at it and it will eventually come to you. You’ll find your own little style inside the arpeggio world and you’ll be able to accompany anybody, especially another guitarist who’s doing chordal rhythms.

One final thing – don’t let the notes sustain. Lift as soon as you pick or in time with the duration. You don’t want them to run into each other and make a mess of things. That means you’re making a chord and not playing an arpeggio.

So, don’t let them scare you away. Don’t worry about the theory. Find a technique that sounds good to you and practice it until you’re happy. Find a few more techniques and truly enjoy yourself. The goal is to have fun. If you wanted mastery, you’d go to a good music school and not listen to some weirdo named TheBuddha.

This will be archived over at the forum when I get a minute.

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Greatest Guitarist of All Time? I think not!

Rolling Stone Magazine rated Jimi Hendrix as Greatest Guitarist of All Time. This has, for a variety of reasons, bothered me. I don’t mean it’s bothered me just a little, I mean it’s driven me to make passionate rants in front of otherwise nice people.

The truth of the matter is that Jimi was not the great guitarist that people seem to credit him as being. Don’t get me wrong. Jimi was a great artist and his contribution to music isn’t to be taken lightly. He’s just not even remotely the Greatest Guitarist of All Time. He wasn’t even the greatest guitarist of his era.

It’s from this that I ended up having a conversation with a fella named @cynicaloldfart and they were pretty smart about it. They asked me who I felt was the best guitarist – and I had an immediate answer. (That answer is Les Paul, by the way. Without him, we’d still be banging proverbial rocks together and strumming on fig leaves.)

This led to a second question – who else? Then, it led to the idea that I should compile a list of guitarists who are better than Hendrix. This seemed remarkably cathartic and I’ve now decided to begin publishing this list. Suffice to say, I’ve quite a few folks on that list – all of whom are better than Hendrix ever dreamed of being.

Running with his question, I’ve decided to compile a list of guitarists that are really very good and deserving of accolades. I’ve taken a scholastic approach to this, though it’s not so refined as to ever be suitable for publication in an academic journal. Instead, it’s meant to give us a moment of healing, a time when we can feel better about the injustices that have been done to us – like naming Hendrix as the greatest guitarist of all time.

I present the very first in what’s a fairly long list of guitarists who are greater than Hendrix. I will attempt to quantify the unquantifiable and to justify each selection. I highly encourage people to respond and let me know if you’d like a new guitarist featured, one that you think is better than Hendrix ever was. I, of course, will decide if you’re suggestion has merit and will consider it for inclusion on the list.

There is no guarantee about the length of the list (I currently have a dozen to get us started) or the regularity with which I’ll post. I’ll aim to get a new guitarist added to the list, one each week, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Without further ado, I present to you the start of the list and our first guitarist greater than Hendrix ever thought of being:

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