com­plete rock work­out Be ready for that gig!

Been a long time since you rock and rolled? Fear not, as John Wheatcroft takes you through all the steps re­quired to pre­pare you for that Big Rock Gig.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

John Wheatcroft pre­sents the ul­ti­mate rock gui­tar work­out to make sure you hit that stage like a sea­soned pro!

“The dis­gust­ing stink of a too loud elec­tric gui­tar: now that’s my idea of a good time”. So said Frank Zappa, an in­cred­i­bly di­verse and ar­tic­u­late mu­si­cian who could cre­ate in a wide va­ri­ety of styles. Put an elec­tric gui­tar in his hands, how­ever, and it was time to rock and roll.

The pur­pose of this ar­ti­cle is to hone a va­ri­ety of tech­niques that you might wish to de­velop when pre­par­ing for that big rock gig. It’s no dif­fer­ent whether it be for the start of a 30-date tour, or a Fri­day night pub gig where you need to im­press - your fam­ily is com­ing, or per­haps other mu­si­cians will be there (po­ten­tial fu­ture band­mates?). The bet­ter pre­pared you are, the more ‘head­room’ your play­ing has. Play at the limit of your abil­i­ties and mis­takes are much more likely to oc­cur.

We have eight stud­ies de­signed to de­velop par­tic­u­lar ar­eas, such as open-string and move­able power chords, riffs and melodic hooks, all the way to bend­ing in the pen­ta­tonic scale, string skip­ping, tap­ping and so on. We round the les­son off with a short piece that in­cor­po­rates many of these con­cepts, with a cou­ple of cool new ideas thrown in.

Ex­e­cute each study as writ­ten; then, once you’re com­fort­able with them, it’s up to you to cre­ate equiv­a­lent stud­ies us­ing the same con­cepts, but in your own way. We’ve aimed for main­stream tech­niques that you can hear in ac­tion if you do some care­ful lis­ten­ing. In fact, lis­ten­ing and ab­sorb­ing is as im­por­tant as any other area of your prac­tice rou­tine. An ac­tor, pre­par­ing for a role that re­quires a spe­cific di­alect, would re­search by lis­ten­ing to that ac­cent, and maybe even visit the area for a while. Like­wise, you’re never go­ing to be able to play con­vinc­ing rock gui­tar if you’ve not ab­sorbed it by lis­ten­ing - thor­oughly.

Think of learn­ing a new idea as a process of ‘turn­ing on’ var­i­ous sounds that you are fa­mil­iar with; this speeds up the in­tu­itive side of learn­ing tremen­dously.

Your ap­proach to gig ‘eti­quette’ can re­ally make a dif­fer­ence too. Other mu­si­cians no­tice if you turn up to shows or re­hearsals know­ing the tunes in­side out, with the right equip­ment, on time and with a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude - they no­tice the op­po­site, too. Make sure you have a tuner, prefer­ably one that al­lows you to tune silently be­tween songs; spare strings, valves, fuses, leads and bat­ter­ies if you need them. A spare gui­tar is a good idea too - break a string and you can do an im­pres­sive quick change.

It’s a great idea to record per­for­mances and re­hearsals. It doesn’t need to be any­thing fancy; most phones have the fa­cil­ity to record and, for the pur­poses of re­view­ing your per­for­mance, the qual­ity will be fine. It’s im­por­tant to be kind but firm to yourself. While it’s good to be crit­i­cal, you need to strike a bal­ance be­tween ac­knowl­edg­ing the ar­eas that need work, and those as­pects of your play­ing per­son­al­ity that you ac­tu­ally like and should aim to ac­cen­tu­ate.

Make your tone work for you

Your choices re­gard­ing tone can make a dra­matic dif­fer­ence to the way your gui­tar sounds and is per­ceived. Most rock play­ers agree that a qual­ity valve amp turned up loud with a cou­ple of se­lect ped­als is the way to go. We’re gen­er­ally af­ter one good tone, vary­ing the gain level by us­ing the vol­ume on your gui­tar and kick­ing an over­drive or dis­tor­tion pedal in or out. The gain struc­ture is the most cru­cial fac­tor in es­tab­lish­ing your tone, and can have a dra­matic ef­fect on the playa­bil­ity and ‘feel’ of your gui­tar.

Here are some points to con­sider: Mod­er­ately over­driven tones are par­tic­u­larly ex­pres­sive, es­pe­cially at stage vol­ume. The tone is rocky but still re­spon­sive to pickup changes and pick­ing dy­nam­ics. Paul Kos­soff and An­gus Young are two leading ex­po­nents of this ap­proach to tone pro­duc­tion. Take care when mix­ing picked-notes and ham­mer-ons, as vol­ume im­bal­ances can be ap­par­ent.

If you’ve ever wit­nessed Zakk Wylde or James Het­field in ac­tion you’ll be aware of the power, pro­jec­tion and sus­tain that a fully dis­torted sound is ca­pa­ble of. The draw­backs are limited dy­namic range and in­creased han­dling noise. Tech­niques such as vi­brato need to be ex­ag­ger­ated as the gain in­creases, if they are to be truly ef­fec­tive.

Sin­gle-coil pick­ups pro­duce a clear, bell-like tone. They are par­tic­u­larly good at re­pro­duc­ing pick­ing dy­nam­ics and ex­cel in clean and mod­er­ately over­drive set­tings. Noise can be an is­sue with high gain though, prompt­ing a num­ber of mak­ers to de­sign hum-can­celling op­tions. Full hum­buck­ing pick­ups pro­duce a more stri­dent, bold and fat­ter sound that fills a lot of tonal space. The unit clos­est to the bridge pro­duces the bright­est sound while things get pro­gres­sively warmer, closer to the neck. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the bridge pickup sees the most ac­tion in rock as over­drive and dis­tor­tion fat­ten the tone con­sid­er­ably, al­though the neck pickup can sound par­tic­u­larly flute-like, and flat­ters a range of high-gain tech­niques such as sweep pick­ing and string skip­ping. Just watch any video of Yngwie Malm­steen and the num­ber of pickup changes from bridge to neck and back again, is likely to run into dou­ble fig­ures in ev­ery piece he plays!

I hope you en­joy our ‘tech­nique tune-up’, and re­mem­ber to re­fer to it any time your play­ing needs a shot in the arm.

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