I’ve just had a major guitar breakthrough which has really inspired me. I wanted to share this as I believe other guitarists may be in a similar spot. I’ve been playing for about 11 years and my progress has gone along the lines of: learn some chords, learn the minor Pentatonic, discover tab, learn my favourite songs, start improvising, play in some bands. Getting my fingers to do the right thing was happening but I was stale.
Then I recently started learning saxophone with a really good teacher. He forced me to learn and clap out basic rhythms and I was shocked to find that I was rushing at slower tempos. After discovering this I started to focus heavily on my timing. I started scouring through my previous issues of GT and actually learning things properly. I wasn’t satisfied with getting the notes right, they had to be smack bang on time. Exercises like Chops Shop which I previously found boring because I knew the note patterns, I find fun nailing with a metronome (another tool I never thought I needed). I can now change between triplets, 16ths, 16th-note triplets (twiddly-dee) within the same lick where previously I would stumble.
I’ve been really focusing on my active listening, and now instead of saying, ‘how do they that?’ I say, ‘I can do that’. I know you guys iterate these things but when you hear from someone average that it worked as well, I think it adds some weight. Dan K That’s a great letter, Dan. We guitarists have that double-edged sword of the instrument being relatively easy to get by on when learning lead, so much so that we sometimes feel we don’t need ‘proper’ tuition; and the fact that a few years down the line we realise we’ve been doing it all wrong and have to begin again. Or perhaps, as in your case, focusing on one particular aspect to the detriment of others. You’ll notice in GT how often we mention timing – and guitarists’ common tendency to rush ahead. So perhaps this could be a salutary lesson to us all!
HUGH AND I?
As a guitar teacher GT is a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration. I was wondering, nay hoping, that you would be able to cover the style of The Stranglers’ original guitarist Hugh Cornwell? His playing on the first five albums especially is a joy to behold: quirky runs, unusual phrasings and a ‘Tele plugged straight into the amp’ attitude. His work on The Raven album is particularly intriguing. I know that Hugh is sometimes overlooked as a guitarist but his innovation is remarkable and his style is truly unique. I often point students who are looking for an escape from chord based rhythm playing in Hugh’s direction, as he often incorporates interesting licks and runs into his playing. Any chance of covering this unique player in the (near) future? His playing really is ‘Just Like Nothing On Earth’! Jonny Wheeler. Yes you are right, Jonny. I used to love Hugh’s quirky playing in The Stranglers – in fact I wonder if Graham Coxon didn’t get a few ideas from him too, as he also adds neat licks and fills into his rhythm work. I’ll have a chat with Jason and see if we can’t insinuate a Hugh Cornwell lesson into Martin Cooper’s ‘rock’ series in the near future.
In regards to the subject ‘A decent lead tone’ from Roderick Dav, you explain that you’re using a Marshall JCM900. I have two of these and have used them as my workhorse heads for years. The Dual Reverb head’s preamp section is modelled on a distortion/overdrive type circuit. Have you ever stacked distortion pedals? It doesn’t always work that well, and in my experience with the Dual Reverb head, distortion pedals are a waste of time, as are most digital effects units. But the amps love input volume. I’ve used 9-band BOSS Graphic EQs with very satisfactory results for my whole career. Best money spent for tone or signal boost, and this is the one pedal I couldn’t go without.
One of these in front of a JCM900 Dual Reverb is as good as a four-channel amp with massive gain headroom. I have a 900 SL-X and an 800 Lead series too which are more similar in the preamp, bar another valve; and, as most Marshall fans would know, 800s go very well with distortion pedals. Different cabs make a difference to the way they cut through as well. You can usually tell when a guitarist spends too much time playing on their own because they EQ a fraction too mild for a live situation. My sound tech buddies always stress to EQ bright, to allow for what an audience will soak up.
I find the 300-watt cabs cut a little better than the 280, and as far as the reverb part of the 900 head, try leaving the reverb off and fiddling with your tone curve. I find the reverb adds a few jagged edges overall and that a bit of analogue delay fills in what’s needed a little nicer - I think it makes it nicer to EQ too since their bands are reasonably narrow, another bonus of having a floor EQ unit. Neville, you’re spot on with the gain/crunch side of things too; record yourself playing in the band and listen back to how much drive you have and what you think you need obviously metal is a high-gain scenario so that’s a little different, but the higher the gain the less presence in the tone. And if all else fails, just turn it up - those amps only start coming alive around 5! I hope that gives you some things to think about. Craig Somers That’s a really interesting response, Craig. I’m sure it will be of great help. Weirdly, I found myself in the position of having to use a JCM900 just a couple of weeks ago. Not having used one for years I too quickly noticed that my OCD or Red Jasper pedals were better out of the equation than in. Also, that cranking the master doesn’t necessarily take the roof off the place, but simply makes the amp sound like it was meant to do. I’m sure Roderick will now go away and get tweaking!
Marshall JCM900: try no distortion pedals but whack up the volume!
Hugh Cornwell: neat licks and pure Tele tone