29 Sep

how harmonics are affected by pickup positions

This morning, before heading to work, I was trying to explain to Bronwyn why 5th harmonics are hard to sound on the neck pickup. I think I explained very poorly, so here is a better explanation, with crappy photos.

The first photo illustrates an open string with no harmonics. Note that the string vibrates the most at the 12th fret. In this case, more vibration is picked up by the neck pickup than by the bridge pickup (the photo is of an Ibanez S520 EX – a beautiful guitar to play – and extremely heavy!)

In this second image, the string is struck with the finger resting lightly against the 12th fret. This has the result that the string’s vibration is cut in half, with two waves on the string instead of one. Note that there is little-to-no vibration at the 12th fret. Again, the neck pickup picks up the most vibration.

In this third image, the finger rests against the 5th fret, cutting the string into four waves. Note that there is no vibration at around the 25th/26th fret, which coincides with the neck pickup. That means that if you have your neck selector set as your only pickup, then you will not get much sound at all – especially on a telecaster or stratocaster, which seems to coincide exactly with that point.

17 Sep

flight of the bumblebee

This is just a few tips on how to play this adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight Of The Bumblebee for guitar.

First off, loosen up your left hand’s fingers by dipping them in some warm/hot water for about 30 seconds. This is needed for me, anyway, as I don’t have great circulation. I leave the right hand alone, as it’s mostly wrist movements there.

With every tab you come across, there are some ways of playing things that just seem to be easier.

This piece, for example, is in the original:


For some reason, I find it easier to play it like this:


I’m not sure why I find that version so much easier to play – maybe it’s because there is a similar pattern throughout.

The next one, though, I can explain. Here is the original:



My own version, while it may look more difficult, is actually much easier:



To play the original, you would need to have pretty big hands, as it’s hard for me to play high frets on the low E and A strings. Also, there are five notes per string on the original, which means a finger would need to slip up a fret for each string. This is okay every now and then, but to do it in rapid succession can be tricky.

With mine, the trick is to play four notes from index to pinky, then move the hand quickly up to play the next four in the same way. This is not hard to do. The hardest part is actually making the transition sound clean. That comes with practice.

23 Aug

two photos

Just thought I’d share these. the first one is my son Jareth, being Terminator after a sloppy meal.

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The second is of a custom job I did on Bronwyn’s guitar. I painted ivy onto the guitar, then made a new scratch plate from some perspex. I gave the scratch plate a frosted look with a wire brush on a rotary tool, and engraved a pentagram into it (avoided that area while doing the frosting). The image is of me playing Flight Of The Bumblebee. Note that the scratch plate is mostly transparent. The frosting gives a tantalising glimpse of the wiring underneath.

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18 Dec

dm arpeggios made simple

I was doing my daily practise routine and grumbling about how difficult it was to get the D note to sound cleanly on the third string when using the pinky to bridge two strings at the same time in a Dm arpeggio:

   1  4  1  4  4  1  1  1     4  1  1  1  4  4  1  4
|| ---------------------10- | 13-10------------------- ||
|| ------------------10---- | ------10---------------- ||
|| ---------------10------- | ---------10------------- ||
|| ------------12---------- | ------------12---------- ||
|| ------8--12------------- | ---------------12-8----- ||
|| 5--10------------------- | ---------------------10- ||

So, here’s an easier way that doesn’t use so much bridging:

   1  1  4  1  1  4  1  1     4  1  1  4  1  1  4  1
|| ---------------------10- | 13-10------------------- ||
|| ------------------10---- | ------10---------------- ||
|| ------------7--10------- | ---------10-7----------- ||
|| ---------7-------------- | ---------------7-------- ||
|| ---5--8----------------- | ------------------8--5-- ||
|| 5----------------------- | ------------------------ ||

Note the pattern “1 1 4” in the left fingers. It may seem kind of strange moving from the 10th fret using the pinky to another 10th fret using the index, but I find this to be a very simple way of doing this arpeggio. I also use a similar shift for other arpeggios – it allows you to use a simple pattern of the left hand and simple slide the hand around the fretboard as needed.

07 Dec

guitar practice

As some people might know, I’m a bit of a guitarist. I’d not practiced in a very long time, though, so it was painful to recently pick up the guitar and hear how my playing had degraded.

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve practiced at least a half hour every day and can hear myself improving – and can also measure it.

One reason I found it so easy to stop using the guitar over the last few years is that, whenever I picked it up, I would not know what to play. I would find myself playing the same stuff over and over. Satriani’s Tears In The Rain, Albeniz Isaac’s Leyenda, and Francisco Tarrega’s Recuardos De La Alhambra being some favourites.

Much as I like those tunes, I’m really a speed guitarist at heart. I like to work at tunes such as Steve Vai’s Eugene’s Trick Bag (good tab, by the way!), Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Black Star.

Those songs (search for the MIDI files) are incredibly difficult to play. You need to be a very dedicated practicer.

Fortunately, I’ve found a practice method that seems to work for me.

Instead of aimlessly plucking away with no particular goal in mind, or launching into the deep end of a fast lick, I break down tunes I want to learn into very short segments – usually only one or two bars in length. Then, write them into a MIDI sequencer (I use Rosegarden, but you could use Cakewalk or Cubase if you’re not using Linux), and start practicing.

Now, here is the important part. No matter how well you think you know something, always start practicing it very slowly. I write my practice segments in semi-quavers, with a 90 bpm, which is fairly simple to play, even with the trickiest tunes. Once you’ve written the segment, copy it and paste it about 15-20 times, until it’s a minute or two in length. Make sure to quantise the notes afterwards so the notation isn’t all screwed up!

Once you have a list of practice segments, write them into a spreadsheet. For example, here are five I am working on at the moment:

  • A Major scale
  • String-skipping exercise (Total Guitar magazine 130, page 10)
  • A Minor arpeggio
  • E7 Arpeggio
  • A Harmonic Minor arpeggio

Once you have the list, it is time to go through them one by one.

Look at the first riff. Play the riff once. Is it comfortable? Could you use a different fingering easier? The E7 Arpeggio mentioned above, for instance, is the second arpeggio in Steve Vai’s “Eugene’s Trick Bag”. There are a few different ways of playing that. I found a comfortable one after trying out a few variations, and that has helped me immensely.

Hit “play” on your sequencer. Let the first copy of the practice riff play through without you copying it. This will set it into your mind. Now, play along with the rest, being very careful to pick the notes cleanly, and fret the notes so they ring clearly.

If you think you played it very easily and clearly, then select all the bars, and increase the tempo by one beat. For instance, increase it from 90 to 91. Then, play it once again.

If you made any mistakes or think it was a bit muffled, then leave the speed as it is, but play it through once more, trying to keep it clear.

If you found it bloody impossible to play, then reduce it by one beat (90 to 89, for example), and try to play it again. Don’t worry about it – it will get to a speed that you can play eventually.

Once you’ve finished with the first riff, carry on to the second, then the third, etc. With the five exercises above, for example, I’m usually finished a run through them after about twenty minutes.

Make sure to note the bpm that you end up with for each riff. Place these numbers in a column of your spreadsheet next to the exercise’s name. You can use these numbers to track how well you are progressing day by day.

Don’t over-practice. It should be sufficient to go through the above exercise’s once per day. Speed will come gradually, and it will be very comfortable and effortless when it does.