Wisdom From An Old Picker

Advice is free, and not mandatory, and opinions are like noses, everybody's got one and they all smell. So you can take this or leave it, it doesn't matter to me. Hopefully someone benefits from a lot of years on the fretboard.

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A little back ground on me:

I've been playing Guitar since I was seven. Ok, I'll admit what a lot of guys won't. I was playing with a guitar when I was seven. I learned a handful of chords and that if I didn't keep playing my fingers hurt like hell, so in the beginning, I didn't play very much. I started taking guitar seriously, or my level of seriousness, when I was about thirteen when I discovered that girls dig guitar players. Yep, that was my motivation at the time, eh It happens. Pretty quickly, my motivation changed with my playing ability and now, I play guitar because I love it.

I was working part time at a music store, cleaning floors and dusting guitars to pay for my first electric guitar, when, while playing around with My, not yet mine, guitar when an old guy came into the store, heard me playing around and asked me if I wanted to be in a band that he was putting together for his daughter. The best advice I ever got was from the owner of the music store who simply said, Just play it! Get in there, turn it up, and hold on! So, in a matter of minutes at our first practice I learned a lot about what I didn't know about playing guitar. A lot of books, sore fingers and hours in my bedroom later, my music career was born. I started playing in bars when I was sixteen and decided that I was going to be playing guitar for the rest of my life. I've done that so far, and even made my living playing guitar in the 90's for a few years, which isn't as easy or romantic as some people may think it is. Along the way, I've picked up some tips, tricks, bad habits and good ones. I've made a lot of friends, a few enemies, and had some heart aches, but what a ride! The ramblings that follow are nothing more than tips and tricks from an old guy that has played guitar for over thirty years and loves to perform. I'm not an expert, or a virtuoso, and I don't make my living playing guitar. So, let's get started.

Your Instrument:

If you're on this forum for any amount of time, you're going to read a lot of reviews, tech spec's, and lots and lots of advice on too many brand names and models of guitars to count. Not criticizing at all, because that's what this forum is for. However, if you're brand new at playing guitar, or just learning, it can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. So let's simplify things.

Quality doesn't mean expensive necessarily as it applies to a beginner or intermediate level guitar. Let's face facts. The days of hand cut, shaped and built guitars in mass qty's is over. Robotics and modern manufacturing techniques have taken over. Electric guitars these days are cut, shaped, and routed by machines on an assembly line. What's the difference you ask? Well, I'm not saying that an American made Gibson Les Paul is exactly the same as a Chinese made Epiphone, so you purists out there can relax. It all comes down to numbers of guitars produced and quality. Epiphone's for example are produced in massive quantities for the masses. Their Quality process kicks out guitars that don't meet a set of standards for shape, size, and if the holes are in the right place, so if it's not cracked or split, and the robots to come can put it together, it's off to paint. Gibson on the other hand physically inspects each piece of wood before it goes into the machine to ensure that it meets their quality standards for tone. Then bodies are matched with necks by folks that really know what they're doing to make the best sounding guitar that is possible. It takes time and a high level of expertise to know what is going to make the best instrument, and you're going to pay for that level of quality and expertise. To sum it up, Epiphone inspects the final product to make sure it functions. Gibson inspects the material it's going to be made of to make the best sounding instrument. If you're an advanced player that performs and can tell differences in how a guitar sounds, this is going to be important to you and your sound. As a beginner guitar player, you probably can't tell, and you don't know what makes you feel warm and fuzzy yet so there isn't any need to spend $2,000.00 or more for an instrument that you may not stick with. But if you have to have the best, let me know, and I'll tell you what to get so when you give it up, I'll buy that really pretty flame top Les Paul Custom Shop from you when you quit at half the cost of a new one because it's not as easy as you thought it was going to be.

So, what's important to the beginner?

For the beginning guitar player the most important thing about your first guitar is whether or not it plays well and stays in tune. If you have to fight to play it, you're not going to stick with it, and if it's not in tune you're not playing the notes that are in the chords you're trying to play, and you're not going to stick with it. A personal recommendation would be the Fender Squire Series combo sets. You get a guitar, strap, cable, and amp all in one box for a very reasonable price. The guitars meet a standard set by a quality guitar maker so you are likely to get an instrument that stays in tune, is functional, and will be playable on a beginning level. I'd recommend buying the set new, mainly because of the warranty. If it's cracked or won't stay in tune, you can take it back and you're still not out a fortune if the guitar is just not right for you. If you're into acoustic guitar, there are a just as many brands and choices, and there are sets out there for acoustics too.

Lessons, yes or no:

As a guy that's given lessons, do me a favor. While you're at the music store buying your guitar, pick up a book, something along the line of, Mel Bay's Beginning Guitar Method. It will take you about twenty minutes to read the beginning pages, and learn how to tune and hold it. Nothing is more sad than seeing an ad on Craig's list for a guitar, and one of the major selling points is that It's just been tuned! or than a kid that brings a guitar into a music store to have it tuned, and worse than that is the Guitar Tech not taking 5 minutes out of his day to teach the poor kid how to tune his own guitar. Learn the difference between a nut and a bridge and the headstock and the tailpiece. You wouldn't drive without knowing the difference between the steering wheel and the shift lever would you? Then take some time to attempt a few simple chords. Your fingers are going to hurt and it won't sound very good, but it will give yourself a start and save the money on your first lesson because you will already know what I'm going to have to teach you anyway. Now, that being said, I didn't take any guitar lessons until I wanted to learn specific things. Learning the basics is fairly easy, perfecting them is time consuming, and your instructor is just going to charge you money to watch you practice what you can practice on your own anyway. Mel Bay has you playing a song your first day which is important, and why you wanted to play guitar in the first place, you wanted to make music, and meet chicks. Style of Music

Whatever you like is the short answer, unless you're being paid to play, or really, REALLY want to learn how to play the guitar. I've learned licks playing country that I use in blues. I've learned licks based on Indian scales that I've used in rock. Play what you like, but learn as much as you can. Genre snobs don't do anything for music except play what's already been done. Unless you want to play in a Jimmy Hendrix Tribute band for the rest of your life, don't learn just Hendrix, that's all I'm saying. Eddie Van Halen started playing classical piano, then classical guitar. I personally took on the Trumpet in the third grade and played it all the way through High School then played country because I was paid to do so. I've had to learn songs exactly as they were written, and I've been told to Make it Mine. I've been told that if I ever played a song the same way twice, I'd be fired. Play what makes you happy Play what moves you. When you finish a lead break to applause, you're getting there. When you finish a lead break in tears because it moved you that much You've arrived.

Practice Techniques Performing and Stage Fright

There are more opinions on practice techniques as there are grains of rice in China. Face it, you've got to practice if you want to get better. It sucks at time, and it's time consuming all the time, but it's necessary. What works for me won't work for everyone, but for me it works. I start out in front of the TV with my electric guitar to warm up. I just free play scales, and licks, and chords, oh my. Drives my wife nuts because she can't hear anything but twanging, but without thinking about anything, I've loosened up my fingers, and warmed up my guitar, and finished watching the news all in one easy step. Move to my studio, (better known in my house as the garage) and plug in. It's impossible to play everything you know every time you practice so don't try. Take notes during rehearsals, or performances on things that you want to improve. My nemesis of late, (don't laugh) is the lead break to Alright Now by Free. I can play it perfectly in rehearsal, but on stage, I stink up the joint. It's not a hard lead at all, and I can play it note for note and phrase by phrase, but I still mess it up. So, every practice session includes playing that frontwards and backwards but I digress. Of course new songs are going to take up the majority of the practice session. I don't stress over a new one, I learn it, or at least part of it, then put it away for a while. Like I said, this is me. My band plays out twice a month, so I've got plenty of time between gigs and rehearsals to learn my material, although others may not have that luxury.

Performing is supposed to be fun, and it's not fun if you're scared to death. I've heard every remedy from Picture them in their underwear to I know a good hypnotist but it was something very simple that got me through it. To get over stage fright, spend a lot of time on stage. Now, before you just say Duh!! and stop reading, what I mean is get used to the environment of being on stage. For example, in most bands I've been in, we set up on stage the same way every time. I'm on the left, then Drums, then Bass, and the lead singer, is out front. We set up this way all the time. If your band doesn't, I'd suggest it. Then, when you rehearse, set up your little area just like you set up for a performance. From where you're standing, set up your amp, your pedal board, microphone and monitor etc all in the same place. That way your rig sounds pretty close to the same, every time you play it. This way you start to take away variables. The more you know what to expect, the less scared you are of the unknown. Another thing that really helps is know your stuff. If you're confident in your ability, you won't be scared to show it off. These aren't meant to cure Glossophobia. If you suffer from this, you've got your work cut out for you to get over it.

The old saying goes If it's not fun, you're doing it wrong and this is my mantra when it comes to playing guitar. I'm not the best out there by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not a superstar or a prodigy. I'm just some old fat guy that's gotten a huge amount of enjoyment out of playing guitar. I played for a living for a little while, but wasn't cut out for it. Music has been fun my entire life, except for the last two years of a 3 year stint on the road. As the Bellamy Brothers said, It's a Hard Way to Make an Easy Living When music turned into work, I hated it. So, I don't do that anymore.

If you've made it this far, you either think I'm full of it, or you'll take what I have to offer and use it as you see fit, in any case, thanks for reading.

Don't ever get good! Play to have fun Grab hold, and Hang on, it's been a hell of a ride!

PapaBear.

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    GazzaCee
    I read PapaBear as PedoBear. Sorry. Anyway, great article, inspirational, all that jazz.
    Papabear505
    Nice guys... ya had me cleaning my bifocals to make sure I didn't type it in that way.. Whew!!!!!
    mystical_1
    Would love to see another article about specific experiences you've had and what you learned from them, in addition to what you've briefly touched upon in this article. I bet you have a lot of stories. And a lot of learning experiences. Would love to hear some more of them.
    Papabear505
    @Kowaru, I can assure you, I'm not Van Hammersmith, although I read a few of his columns, and I'm not upset at being compared with him. @Delsur18 at 7 it was Dad's Epiphone classical, then his '50's model Gibson ES-225. My own was a 1982 Fender Bullet, Telecaster. 2 single coil pups, rosewood fretboard and a steele pickgaurd that doubled as the bridge stop. I have 3 at present. MIM Strat, Epi Les Paul Custom Shop, and an Epi Riviera. I love them all for different things... Again, Thanks for reading guys... got another on in the works, so stay tuned...
    WWTCT
    Alright I'll say it. Is it only a coincidence that this has started two weeks after Van Hammersmith packed it in? Enjoyed the **** out of this!
    that guy Strife
    The studio (better know in the house as the garage) oh man, that's good. Nice to read something by someone who doesn't think he's ''da shit''. And manages to be informative, rational and interesting all the way. Cool reading about Epiphone and Gibson's QA.
    blazingarpeggio
    GazzaCee wrote: I read PapaBear as PedoBear. Sorry. Anyway, great article, inspirational, all that jazz.
    PedoBear approves!!! jk but awesome article... learned something as a performer
    ruletheneck
    mystical_1 wrote: Would love to see another article about specific experiences you've had and what you learned from them, in addition to what you've briefly touched upon in this article. I bet you have a lot of stories. And a lot of learning experiences. Would love to hear some more of them.
    ^ this. great read
    Ragu35
    Kowaru wrote: This person is Van Hammersmith
    not enough alcohol or Ramones references.
    timmoral
    Dear Pedo, (yeah me too) As another oldie I was thinking of doing something like this myself. No need. Nice one.
    binting
    great advice with wisdom from and old player...thanks for your time...
    nugiboy
    Did anyone read this in Grandpa Simpson's voice? Cool article anyway Pedobear.
    MayhemEA
    I loved your article! I agree, unless you are really needing a super nice guitar, things in the 250-500 range have always worked great for me!
    Papabear505
    @Jetwash I was speaking mainly from an all in one that a kid 7-13 can talk his parents into and, perhaps sell as an all in one to the next kid if the first kid doesn't stick with it. I've had good luck with students and these starter packs. Lets face facts, you're going by your experience hearing and perhaps playing all of this stuff. Great if you've got it. In my experience, the parents are coming to me asking about lessons. That is what I recomend to get the kid started. What the kids ask for and recieve after that is up to them... LOL
    jetwash69
    Good stuff, but can't condone the starter pack advice. Beginners can get a much better Fender Mustang amp (or a cheap VOX) for not much more money than what you're paying extra for the starter pack. And that will make them want to play more than a cheap, crappy Squier or Fender Frontman would. But an Affinity isn't bad for a first guitar, although a Blacktop Strat isn't too expensive and at least has 22 frets. Or they can get the Squier Standard Strat which not only has 22 frets, but also a 2 point trem, and takes pick guards made for MIA Strats. I haven't found one of those with good tone, though. Might be the agathis. Or maybe it just has really crappy hardware. I don't think it's the pups so much; the tone seems inferior even unplugged. Ironic since it costs about $80 more than an Affinity. Oh well...
    iup788
    Hopefully this man has come along to fill the voids in all of our hearts that opened when Van Hammersmith left us.
    Munq
    When I played at school's talent show (some Stratovarius stuff), girls were like "Oh.. he's pretty good!! ...should we go doing something else?" But that's a good article.
    delsur18
    Lol, i have a question for papabear, what guitar did you first start out with? and which guitars you currently own are your favourites?
    CydoniaKnight95
    WWTCT wrote: Alright I'll say it. Is it only a coincidence that this has started two weeks after Van Hammersmith packed it in? Enjoyed the **** out of this!
    Exactly what I thought
    Aliens-exist182
    Papabear505 wrote: LMAO... "would have at least have".. Ok... I um.. see your point...
    I lol'd hard. you owned that sucker.