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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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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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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