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Guitar Techniques - - TALK­BACK -


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!


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

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