Tricks Of The Trade

author: Tim_5150 date: 05/23/2005 category: the guide to

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You've finally finished god knows how many lessons, you can burn through a fret board with your lightning fast licks, and you can play with your guitar behind your head, but you still don't sound quite nice?


There are lots of factors to consider when sound is concerned. First off: equipment. Your equipment can greatly affect your overall sound. I've listed down the most common equipment problems, just read on:
  • Pickups: these are the little plastic/ metal things with (or without) metallic dots (bars, lines, screws, etc) on the body of your guitar/ bass. These babies pickup the vibrations of your strings and turn them into the sound coming off your amp. Oh yeah, the problem: they might be broken. Problem 1: This part usually gets grounded; if this happens all you have to do is open up your guitar and re-solder the wires to the pickup selector, volume, and (if there is) tone knob. Problem 2: Your pickup may have become Out of Phase this can happen if the magnet within your pickup corrodes, or someone tampered with the insides of your pickup. This can also occur if the pickups you've paired up don't compliment each other's magnetic fields. How do you fix this? You buy a new pickup! Not even the top pickup companies can fix an OP pickup! If the OP status is because of your pickups don't compliment each other then just change one of them so that they compliment each other. Problem 3: Your pickup just doesn't sound good. How do you fix this? First determine what type of sound you want, find the pickup which suits you best, buy it, and finally: install/ have it installed to your guitar. Problem 4: Your bridge (position farthest from the neck) pickup is weaker that your neck (position nearest to the neck) pickup. To fix this you might want to switch the positions of your pickups, or you could just buy new ones and have 'em replaced. Problem 5: The pickup sounds different from the exact same model you've tried on a different guitar. This is because of the wood used to make your guitar. The heavier (e.g. Basswood) the wood the darker the tone; like wise the (e.g. Maple) lighter the wood the brighter the tone.
  • Neck: the neck of your guitar is the long part that you hold. The neck may be deformed, either that you it's snapped! Sadly, the only way to fix this is to buy a new neck.
  • Fret/ Fingerboard: the fret/ fingerboard is the part of the neck, which you press your strings against to get different sounds. Like the neck this may be deformed too, and sadly like the neck the only way to fix this if to have the neck re-fretted (or you could buy a new neck).
  • Cables: the long cord you plug into your guitar, effects, and amps. Problem 1: Lots of buzz. You can easily fix this by un-screwing the cover of your cable and wrapping the little wires and plug with some electrical tape. Problem 2: Still lots of buzz, and sometimes the signal gets cut. Just follow the ten user-friendly steps: 01. Un-screw the cover. 02. Separate the plug from the cord. 03. Cut off approximately half an inch from the tip of the cord. 04. Skin approximately half an inch of the cord. 05. Re-connect plug with cord. 06. Solder the insulated wires of the cord to the short elongated part of the plug (the one on top), and solder the bare wires to the one on the on near the ring holding the cord in place. 07. Let it dry for about 30 seconds (important: do not blow or expose to wind!) 08. Cover with electrical tape. 09. Re-screw the cover. 10. Done! Problem 3: I'm to sissy to follow the ten steps! Then shell out some cash for a new cable!
  • Strings: Duh! The thickness of your strings can affect your sound a lot! The thicker the string the thicker the sound, and vice-versa.
  • Picks: the little piece of plastic you hit your stings with. The thickness of your pick can affect your sound a lot too! The thinner the pick the more you can hear it (kudos for acoustic/ emo fans!) when you strum, and vice-versa. It's also harder to speed-pick with a thin pick.
  • Amps: the thing you connect your cable to after you've connected it to your guitar/ effects. If the ones mentioned above can affect you sound a lot, this can affect your sound dramatically! Problem 1: It doesn't sound good try fiddling with the EQ (bass, treble, middle, contour, presence, gain, etc) knobs to see which settings you prefer. Problem 2: not quite try plugging it in the correct voltage! Problem 3: it still doesn't sound good try having it repaired. You can usually have it repaired in the place where you bought it. Problem 4.1: they say my amp's just fine! try and check on your guitar the problem might not be with your amp but with your guitar. Problem 4.2: my guitar's ok. I really think it's my amp! for god's sake buy a new one!
  • Effects: effects pedals are those little electronic things you step on to give your guitar a different sound. The most common problem about effects is that they use up lots of batteries, thus burning a rather large hole in your pocket! Problem 1: it sounds wrong try adjusting the EQ knobs of your effects pedal to suit your taste. Problem 2: still ain't working try replacing the battery. Problem 3: I don't hear the effect try adjusting the EQ knobs, either that or try stepping on a button to take it out of Bypass mode. Problem 4: it still sounds wrong try using the suggested voltage for the batteries (look at the manual!) Problem 5: it turns off by it's self (for ones that use A/C adaptors) try tightening the A/C adaptor to the socket or the A/C input of your effects pedal/ board. Problem 6: its broken the store you bought it from can repair it for you. And if all else fails just buy a new one.


    Now the equipment section's done, lets head on to your playing problems! I've also put some definitions and tips for the newbie axe-slinger.
  • Chops: this refers to your style, and over all playing skill. If you haven't developed your chops enough yet, I suggest not playing gigs yet and going back to practicing some guitar exercises! Remember do at least two hours a day! And don't get your hands wet after practice (wait at least an hour!)!
  • Timing: it's crucial to have good timing while playing (not unless you want to get booed off stage!)! To improve your timing try playing this game: Make It Disappear Mechanics: listen to a metronome and while listening to it try clapping to its beat to make the bell/ blip disappear. Increase the speed of the metronome, as you get better. Once you've gotten really good try playing a note instead of clapping, and once you get really-really good try playing a scale instead of a note. -Billy Sheehan (Talas, Niacin, Mr. Big, DLR Band, Steve Vai.) This game may sound boring, but its actually pretty fun once you get used to it!
  • Making rhythm: rhythm can mean the main riff, solo/ adlib/ musical break, or any part of the song! If you're having a hard time making rhythm you should work on your chops! But this time focus on scales. Confusing? Ok I'll explain. Scales fall under chops, but unlike the other divisions of chops like speed this requires your creative side. A scale is a group of notes put together, which form a certain rhythmic pattern. The most popular scales are: Pentatonic major and minor, Blues, and Harmonic major and minor. You can check more scales out at
  • Speed: speed not only refers to your fingerwork on the fretboard, it also refers to the speed of you're a strumming, sliding, bending, picking, finger picking, tapping, and chord switching. You can enhance this with some good finger exercises
  • Tone: tone refers to the way your overall sound is like. (e.g. If its too harsh or hollow).
  • Feel: this is the factor no one can accurately explain, and no one can teach! Feel (in my words) can happen at any time in your life as a musician. No one knows when it'll come but one thing's for sure: once you have feel your overall sound, despite of how shoddy chops are they will improve dramatically!

    Miscellaneous Problems

  • The connection of your pickup selector to your pickup: you can have it repaired by the store you bought it from or you could just re-solder the wires of your pickups to the pickup selector.
  • The string action is too high: try adjusting the action of your strings by adjusting the height of the bridge and or your nut.
  • The connection of your pickups to your volume/ tone knob: once again you can have it repaired by the store or you could solder it your self.
  • Lots of buzz/ hum: try switching off fluorescent lights, wrapping the wires of your cable with electrical tape, wrapping the wires of your pickups with electrical tape, adjusting the EQ settings of your amp and effects pedals/ boards, and dipping your pickups in paraffin (candle) wax. Note: ask for the assistance of a professional when dipping your pickup in paraffin (candle) wax. Dipping it for too long may cause the pickup to become out of phase or melt.
  • Dirty sounding picking: try to develop your picking skills it's not a hardware problem!
  • Getting a hissing sound while turning the EQ knobs on your amp. Try having it cleaned by the store you bought it from, or you could always clean it your self. If you're not using the amp for a long time remember to turn its knobs once in a while to keep dust from accumulating in the knob.

    Suggested Hardware Sites

  • More Tim_5150 columns:
    + Knowing Your Effects The Guide To 06/27/2005
    + Pickup Mods The Guide To 05/26/2005
    + Preventive Maintenance Gear Maintenance 05/14/2005
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