Flynn Amps and the value of enthusiasmK is for Knopfler, MarkM is for Modes

Friday Facts

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S is for Stack
November 27, 2014

There are guitar amps, and then there are guitar amps. While many musicians (mostly singers) will tell you that a guitar player doesn’t need a huge amp to sound huge I’m of the opinion that there is something about a big stack of amps that provides you with a little something extra.

A guitar amp stack has two or three parts. On top, the head or amplifier which does most of the work but has no speakers of its own. and below that one, or preferably two large open faced cabinets usually containing  four twelve inch speakers.  There are variations to these rules but the classic stack is an amp and two 4×12 cabs as they are known.

When placed together on the stage or in the studio these separate parts can often exceed six feet in hight, leading to the name “stack” simply referring to the stack of gear. Once upon a time the amp in a stack would almost always contain valve circuitry. This is still predominately the case but in recent years solid state technology has made an impact, mostly due to reliable travelling toughness although the sound of these amps has improved.

The use of full stacks has declined over time since their heyday in the late 1970’s due to a number of factors such as the rise of the number of semi-pro bands with smaller touring potential, legislation requiring venues we reduce noise pollution (philistines!) and the sheer weight of all three parts making using a full stack a labour of love.

/harry


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Q is for Questions
September 26, 2014

OK, I admit it! I couldn’t think of anything for Q that wasn’t really obscure and not very interesting. So I know there’s a few of you out there who read this blog, and I’d like to invite some questions. Anything you want to know (about the guitar preferably) and I’ll do my very best to answer.

Fire away

/h


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P is for Paco
August 8, 2014

Paco Peña to give him his full name. Peña was born in Spain in 1942 and relocated to London in 1966. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost traditional Flamenco players and a traditionalist in a strong sense, who sees his role as promoting flamence culture, rhythms and traditional sounds. Peña started playing young, learning from his brother aged 6 and gave his first professional concert aged 12. Before his move to London he performed throughout Spain both as part of a government sponsored folk music and dance program and later with professional companies in Madrid and the Costa Brava.

In 1970 he founded the Paco Peña Flamenco Company, consisting of himself, two dancers, two singers and another guitar player. The company has since given concerts throughout the world. He signed to the Decca label, and released The Art of Flamenco Guitar (1972), The Flamenco World of Paco Peña (1978), and The Paco Peña Company Live At Sadler’s Wells, London (1980) amongst many others.

In 1981 he founded the Centre of Flamenco in Cordoba, which hosts an annual Festival Internacional de la Guittarra, a two month celibration of the guitar with concerts and master-classes from flamenco and classical musicians such as John Williams, Ben Verdery and Serranito. In 1985 Peña was appointed the worlds first Professor of Flamenco at the Rotterdam Conservatory and in 1997 was awarded ‘La Cruz de Oficial de la Orden del Merito Civil’ by the King of Spain.

/h


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O is for Open Chords
August 1, 2014

Open chords are chords in which open (non-fretted) strings are used as a part of the chord. Normally, but not exclusively these are played at the nut end of the fretboard, and are popular with rhythm guitar players and singer song-writers for their compact nature and ease of use. More commonly used on acoustic guitar rather than electric these chords also form the starting point for most players learning chords and those of C, A, G, E, and D are the basis of the CAGED system of fretboard knowledge. I often start with those first five when teaching and a couple of associated minor ones and get students to try and see the “shapes” and recognise these patterns when they pop elsewhere. Seeing E major and A minor as the same shape, on different strings is a good first step.

/h


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N is for National
July 25, 2014

National Guitars are a company best known for two things. Firstly for being the first major guitar manufacturer to decided to shift focus from acoustic to electric instruments. And for making from 1928 onwards, the Dobro and other resonator guitars. These instruments are made with metal bodies and metal resonator cones, most commonly fashioned out of aluminium. This design gives the guitar a louder sound than traditional wooden models but provides an excellent harsh and brittle metallic tone which although an acquired taste, suites some styles of blues and especially slide guitar playing.

When they merged with the Dobro company in 1932 the two luthiers began producing triplate resonators, guitars with three metal cones that vibrated inside the body, amplifying the sound. The most famous model however, is the one that appears on the cover of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album, the National Style O. This guitar features a single large resonating cone in the face of the guitar body, which is all made of pressed steel.

The company also made lap-steel guitars and mandolins, later making cheaper instruments under the the Supra budget brand name. National spotted early opportunities for the electric amplification of the guitar but failed to capitalise on it in the Rickenbacker and later Fender did so successfully. The company went bust in the 1950s but has since come back from the grave to make resonator guitars to the original designs from the days of Dobro.

/h


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Few things to talk about and this is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the techniques and skills I teach and encourage people to explore. Lets begin;

Slurs

Slurring is a term that is used to describe both hammering notes on and pulling off. Hammering consists of not plucking the string again, rather you firmly and quickly ‘hammer’ your fretting finger down onto the desired note hopefully with enough accuracy and clarity to achieve the correct note. Pulling off is more or less the same thing in reverse. After plucking your choice of fretted note you pull your fretting finger downwards and across the string effectively plucking it with your fretting hand to sound the lower note. Using slurs can make playing both faster and smoother.

Slides

Sliding between notes is a distinctive and highly effective musical technique that is ideally suited to the guitar. You can slide quickly from a few frets away into your target note and it doesn’t matter too much where you start from so long as you do not linger on the starting note. Alternatively you can play and hold a lower note before sliding to a higher note in that scale (or vice versa) aloowed as many of the intervening notes to sound as you like.

Vibrato

Vibrato is the practice of repeated varying the pitch of a note very slightly by moving the fretting hand finger and/or wrist. You can get the effect by waggling the tip of your fretting finger up and down. The wrist is more likely to come into play when you are using the first finger. This technique is a very personal one and many famous players can be recognised by the way their vibrato sounds, adding character to their lead parts and solos.

String Bends

You can change the pitch of the note without altering fret or string choice by playing a note and then pushing the the string upwards while letting the note ring. String bending is very common and is a fantastically expressive way of adding emotion and feeling to guitar lines. It’s common to use the third finger to bend a note and add the second and first as support behind the fretting finger. There are many different kinds of bends to try, including but not limited to the choke bend, the hold bend and the double bend. Bending is also a situation where bringing the thumb over the top of the fingerboard can help and not hinder.

Until next time, happy playing!

/harry


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J is for Johnson, Robert
September 27, 2013

Robert Johnson is considered to be one of the greatest blues performers of all time. His hits include “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” which has become a blues standard. Part of his mythology is a story of how he gained his musical talents by making a bargain with the devil. This story has been reused and retold many times as a part of rock mythology.  Johnson was born on May 8, 1911, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. As a singer and guitarist, Johnson is considered to be one of the greatest blues artists ever, but this recognition came to him largely after his death.

During his brief career, Johnson travelled around, playing wherever he could. The acclaim for Johnson’s work is based on the 29 songs that he wrote and recorded in Dallas and San Antonio from 1936 to 1937. These include “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” which has become a blues standard. His songs have been recorded by Muddy Waters, Elmore James, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Johnson came to the attention of many musicians and won over new fans with a reissue of his work in the 1960s. Another retrospective collection of his recordings released in the 1990s sold millions of copies.

But much of Johnson’s life is shrouded in mystery. Part of the lasting mythology around him is a story of how he gained his musical talents by making a bargain with the devil: Son House, a famed blues musician and a contemporary of Johnson, claimed after Johnson achieved fame that the musician had previously been a decent harmonica player, but a terrible guitarist—that is, until Johnson disappeared for a few weeks in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Legend has it that Johnson took his guitar to the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61, where he made a deal with the devil, who retuned his guitar in exchange for his soul.

Strangely enough, Johnson returned with an impressive technique and, eventually, gained renown as a master of the blues. While his reported “deal with the devil” may be unlikely, it is true that Johnson died at an early age. Only 27, Johnson died on August 16, 1938, as the suspected victim of a deliberate poisoning or perhaps congenital syphilis.  Several movies and documentaries have tried to shed light on this enigmatic blues legend, including Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? (1997) and Hellhounds on my Trail (2000).

/harry


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Flamenco is a very famous guitar style. It has featured in a great deal of popular culture and is one of the most instantly recognisable styles to guitarists and non-guitarists alike. In the fifteenth century the invasion of southern Spain by the Moors from North Africa resulted in various interesting and exotic (from a western point of view) influences on the music of Spain. As a result the music of Spain, especially the southern regions, developed a unique character compared with the classical music of its Northern neighbours.

Flamenco playing often requires a strong attack with the thumb to bring out a bass melody. The approach is often far more aggressive than that used in classical guitar playing; quite often rest strokes are used with the thumb in order to achieve a louder more pronounced tone. Fast and highly melodic scale runs are a feature of flamenco playing. Sometimes slurs and legato can be used to facilitate playing such runs at speed but the ability to alternate the middle and index fingers rapidly while picking is the main requirement of the accomplished flamenco guitarist.

Tremolo – this involves using the picking hand fingers in a repeated, quick, flowing pattern to play one note smoothly over and over. This technique is often used to play a melody on the top string and can be considered a method of reproducing the very long sustain that can be more easily produced on bowed or wind instruments. Various finger patterns can be used for a tremolo but the most common is repetition of A M I.

Rasgueado (or Rascuedo) – this is the quintessential flamenco strumming technique. The strumming hand is held tightly closed, then the strings are played by releasing the fingers in quick succession; the fingers roll rapidly across the strings, striking them one after another with the front of the nails. The resulting sound is distinctive and powerful.

Golpe – this is a percussive effect produced by striking the body of the guitar with the ring finger. Golpes are used to accent and emphasise points within the rhythm of the piece. Flamenco guitars are fitted with perspex golpe plates to avoid damaging the finish of the instrument.

 


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One of my innumerable extra-curricular activities as a guitar teacher is to help, advise and generally keep an eye on what guitars my students buy during lessons with me. A big thing with kids of a certain age is picking a guitar because it looks good and buying it online without playing it. I should know, I’ve been there and got burnt! While some are happy to go with an open mind and play guitars until they find one that fits most people have tastes and preferences that make at least some decisions for them before they get into the shop!

Necks on a guitar have a massive, massive impact on how the instrument plays. Making them match your style and hands is a huge part of buying a new guitar. Sometimes though you can pick up a guitar with a neck that feels good on first grab and then there is something not right when you actually go to play the thing.

Frets are something people pay little attention to, but they can be the cause of the this neck disappointment. I find in actual fact that the size and shape of the frets has more of an effect on my comfort that the neck profile itself. So here, for your education is a quick list of the most common fret sizes and a brief note on each.

Fret-anatomy1

6230 – 0.112″ x 0.055″ (2.8mm x 1.4mm) – The biggest frets commonly available – as good as a scalloped feel. I find these to be a bit big for me!

6150 – 0.106″ x 0.036″ (2.7mm x 0.9mm) – The “medium jumbo”. Commonly found on Gibsons. Maybe slightly too large but my favourite in terms of those commonly found.

6105 – 0.08″ x 0.043″ (2mm x 1.1mm) – “Vintage fretwire” – often found on the older Fenders.

6100 – 0.103″ x 0.046″ (2.6mm x 1.2mm) – The true “jumbo” – approximately the same width as the 6130, but taller.

6130 – 0.096″ x 0.047″ (2.4mm x 1.2mm) – Tall and Narrow. One of the more popular fret sizes out there.


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Nano Guitar
September 21, 2012

Totally pointless exercise in science/art but quite cool nevertheless. The Nano Guitar is only 10 micrometers long, made out of something called crystalline silicon. Reading about reveals the following: “Using high-voltage electron beam lithography at the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, one of only two similar machines in this country, the structures were sculpted out of single crystal silicon on oxide substrates. A resist is used to pattern the top silicon layer. The oxide that is underneath this layer can be selectively removed using a wet chemical etch.”

Ok, I understood a little of that. But aparrently if plucked with something called an atomic force microscope it would resonate, but my hearing isn’t good enough to hear it! Neither is yours! Have a good weekend!

/harry